Results prolong, rather than clarify, Democratic race Lacking a front-runner, contest extends to Super Tuesday. Buchanan nips at Bush.

March 04, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Party remained without a clear front-runner today after a mixed bag of primary and caucus results that essentially moved the competition for the party's presidential nomination on to Super Tuesday next week.

And while the Republicans have an established front-runner in President Bush, he too must push on to shake the relentless challenge of television commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, who mounted strong protest votes against him again.

Democratic voters in the South, Midwest and Far West again expressed strong support for "Washington outsider" candidates yesterday, with former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts winning in Maryland and Utah, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in Georgia and former Gov. Jerry Brown winning a tight race in Colorado.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, a longtime Washington insider, salvaged a relatively meaningless success in a sampling of 135 out of 4,100 Minnesota caucuses tabulated last night, winning 27 percent of the vote to 24 percent uncommitted to any candidate. Only Mr. Harkin, backed by Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and organized labor, made a major effort in the state. The fifth Democrat and another Washington politician, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, appeared to fare poorly everywhere yesterday after his victory last week in South Dakota.

Mr. Harkin also won in Idaho's county presidential caucuses, coming away with 30 percent of the 377 Democratic state convention delegates. Mr. Tsongas trailed with 28.4 percent.

For the first time this year, Mr. Clinton entered the winner's circle with 57 percent of the vote in the Georgia primary, besting the runnerup there, Mr. Tsongas, by more than 2-1. But Mr. Tsongas' victory over him and the rest of the Democratic field in the Maryland primary enabled Mr. Tsongas to claim to be the first Democrat to win outside his home region.

Mr. Tsongas also was a big winner in Utah, winning 34 percent of the vote, compared with 28 percent for Mr. Brown and 18 percent for Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Clinton's clear victory in Georgia was probably the most significant, in that it demonstrated his ability to overcome criticisms of his personal actions toward the draft during the Vietnam War that were raised pointedly against him by Mr. Kerrey, an also-ran in the three most important state contests of the seven held yesterday.

As the campaign moves on to Super Tuesday on Mar. 10, in which seven of the 11 states holding delegate-selection contests are in southern or border states, Mr. Clinton is expected to duplicate his success in Georgia. He said last night, however, that he is aware that the fight for the nomination will extend beyond Super Tuesday, with major primaries in Illinois and Michigan, neutral ground for himself and Mr. Tsongas, on Mar. 17 looming as critical.

Mr. Clinton argued in several television interviews last night that his victory in Georgia should not be dismissed as a mere regional one for a Southerner. He described Arkansas in one interview as a border state and noted in others that it is 500 miles from Georgia. He also contrasted his overwhelming victory there with much closer ones by Mr. Tsongas in New Hampshire and Maine, which he described as "a cab ride" from Mr. Tsongas' home in Lowell, Mass.

For Mr. Brown, his Colorado showing not only gave him a psychological boost but he also looked to it to restore his eligibility for the federal campaign subsidy, which he lost by failing to win 10 percent of the vote in two successive primaries, in New Hampshire and South Dakota. He needed 20 percent in Colorado to requalify for the dollar-for-dollar federal matching funds on contributions of $250 or less, which is $150 more than the limit he has set for himself in his shoestring campaign.

Mr. Buchanan, vowing to continue his challenge to President Bush, proclaimed from Atlanta: "We've shaken up the West Wing, we've shaken up Georgia, and we're shaking up the world. . . . The battle of Georgia is won. Now it is on to the battle of the South."

Considering that he did not beat the president in Georgia -- Mr. Bush took 64 percent to 36 percent for Mr. Buchanan -- and in fact has yet to beat him anywhere, this proclamation was a bit strong. But it was clear that his candidacy as a vehicle for protest against the president's conduct of domestic policy still had plenty of steam. Mr. Buchanan is taking his challenge to Louisiana today and Oklahoma tomorrow, two of the 11 states to hold delegate-selection contests next Tuesday, seven of them in Southern and border states.

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