The Bush juggernaut

March 06, 1992

What's wrong with that headline? It does not conform to the Conventional Wisdom about the meaning of Tuesday's primary voting and the entire primary campaign so far. President Bush is supposed to be taking a beating as protest voters cast their ballots for Pat Buchanan.

But let's look at the election day numbers from an Unconventional Wisdom perspective.

So far, in primaries in New Hampshire, South Dakota, Maryland, Georgia, Colorado and Utah, candidate George Bush has won 66 percent of the popular vote and 89 percent of the delegates to the Republican national convention. "Landslide" does not do justice to this result. Call it a juggernaut.

Not only is the president doing better than his opponent, Mr. Buchanan, he is doing better than he himself did in his successful campaign for the nomination four years ago. And so is his party. This last, an ominous portent for the Democrats, is best seen in the two states that held primaries this week and also held them in 1988.

In Maryland, candidate Bush increased his vote total from

107,000 (in round numbes) to 169,000. His share of the Republican vote went from 53 percent to 70 percent. His party's total went from 201,000 to 240,000. Its share of the total primary vote cast went from 27 percent to 32 percent.

Mr. Bush and his party improved even more in Georgia. The Bush vote went from 216,000 to 291,000. His share went from 54 percent to 64 percent. His party's share of turnout went from 40 percent to almost 50 percent. The fact that Mr. Bush is getting more votes and a larger percentage of the party vote in such states can be discounted somewhat. He is president now, not vice president, and Pat Buchanan is no Bob Dole.

But that does not explain the party's surge of voters. What is more likely is that at the presidential level, Republicans are becoming a permanent majority party. In Georgia, unlike Maryland, primaries are not closed. Any voter can ask for either party's ballot. That as many asked for Republican ballots as for Democratic ones last Tuesday is a milestone in Southern politics. (Or almost as many: Out of a total vote of 900,000, only 1,500 more Democratic votes were cast). Democratic turnout in Georgia was off by 172,000 from 1988 to 1992.

These figures strongly suggest that even a wounded George Bush (or any Republican) will once again be very strong in the solid South in November. For 20 years, Democrats have not carried any of the 11 Southern states, except in 1976 (10) and 1980 (1), when Georgian Jimmy Carter was the nominee. If the contours of the voting Tuesday are the same throughout the South in primaries next week, that will strongly suggest that 1992 is going to be more like 1980 than 1976, even if Arkansan Bill Clinton is the nominee.

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