In battle of Super Tuesday, the war won't be won

March 09, 1992|By Paul West | Paul West,Staff Writer

MIAMI -- The slash-and-burn presidential campaign heads into its biggest day tomorrow, with little chance that either party's fight is about to end.

President Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the winners in South Carolina on Saturday, are widely expected to come away as Super Tuesday's big victors, at least in terms of states and delegates won.

But no matter how well they fare, the first decisive tests of the 1992 race still are at least a week away, in the Midwest industrial primaries of Illinois and Michigan. It is there that Mr. Clinton hopes to capture his first major state outside the South, and Mr. Bush will try to defang challenger Patrick J. Buchanan and begin healing the fractious GOP.

With 11 states staging primaries and caucuses, tomorrow rank as the year's largest one-day delegate prize. On the Democratic side, more than one-third of the delegates needed to win the nomination are at stake, although party rules make it impossible for anyone to come close to taking them all. Delegates are awarded to every candidate who gets at least 15 percent of the vote.

Amid new questions about Mr. Clinton's personal financia dealings, raised in the New York Times yesterday, party politicians will be closely scrutinizing the results in Florida, the crucial Democratic test of the day.

Paul E. Tsongas, despite a late start and no organization in th state, is hoping to upset Mr.Clinton here. Florida contains more northern transplants, who might be favorable to the former Massachusetts senator, and relatively fewer blacks and working-class whites, whose votes propelled Mr. Clinton to overwhelming Southern primary victories in Georgia and South Carolina last week.

The fierce competition for this battleground state centers o uncommitted voters in south Florida, home to many Jewish retirees. Yesterday, Mr. Tsongas accused the Clinton campaign of smearing him with a pamphlet questioning his support of Israel. The flier highlights a Senate vote in the late 1970s by Mr. Tsongas to continue aid to Syria, without mentioning that six of the seven Jewish senators at the time voted the same way, Mr. Tsongas charged.

"That's the kind that's going on, and I object to it," he said on ABC.

Mr. Tsongas, who has sharpened his counterattacks on Mr. Clinton in recent days, is expected to win Massachusetts and neighboring Rhode Island, the only non-Southern primaries tomorrow.

Mr. Clinton should sweep the six Super Tuesday states tha border Arkansas, including Texas, the day's richest delegate prize. But his bragging rights from those victories have been discounted in advance because of perceived regional favoritism.

So far, Mr. Clinton has won only one, relatively meaningless contest outside his Southern base -- Saturday's caucuses in Wyoming, which has fewer delegates than any state except Alaska. Mr. Tsongas, though trailing Mr. Clinton in delegates won, has finished first in four states outside his native New

England -- Maryland, Washington, Utah and Arizona.

Among Republicans, Mr. Bush is hoping to extend his unbeate string by winning all eight of tomorrow's GOP primaries. The closest contests will probably come in Louisiana and perhaps Mississippi, where Mr. Buchanan campaigned last week.

The conservative pundit hopes to improve on his performance i Georgia, where he received 36 percent of the vote. But he might be hampered by the presence on the ballot of David Duke, the former Louisiana state representative and Ku Klux Klan leader who received 7 percent in South Carolina's GOP primary.

Mr. Buchanan is urging Louisiana and Mississippi voters not t waste their ballots on Mr. Duke. Mr. Buchanan says that even if he loses everywhere on Super Tuesday, he'll take on Mr. Bush in Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate of any major state and where Democrats and independents can vote in the Republican primary.

"We're going to campaign there and make that the Georgia o the North," Mr. Buchanan said yesterday on CBS. "A presidential campaign is about more than piling up delegates. It is supposed to be a national forum . . . Pat Buchanan is driving the national debate, and moving the administration in our direction. In that sense, we're winning the campaign."

Republican National Committee Chairman Richard N. Bond, a former Bush campaign aide, said that for the good of the party, Mr. Buchanan should drop out of the race when he is mathematically eliminated, which would be sometime in May. The Bush campaign is eager to avoid a primary showdown in June in California, where the president's political standing has plummeted.

But Mr. Buchanan vowed again yesterday to battle Mr. Bush all the way to California and at the Republican National Convention in August.

Compared with the 1988 edition, this year's Super Tuesday is a slimmed-down affair. Nine fewer states are voting, including Maryland and Georgia, which moved up a week to steal more attention on their voting. A half-dozen Western states also have voted already.

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