Southerners deliver for Clinton Ark. Democrat dominates Super Tuesday President wins all GOP primaries

March 11, 1992|By Paul West | Paul West,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton seized a strong lead in the Democratic presidential race yesterday, roaring across his native South by rolling up landslide victories in seven states from Florida to Texas.

Meantime, President Bush maintained his unbeaten streak by scoring Super Tuesday triumphs in all eight GOP primaries. His spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said that "for all practical purposes," Mr. Bush has won renomination.

However, Republicans continued to register their dissatisfaction

with his leadership by casting a sizable protest vote in virtually every state. Challenger Patrick J. Buchanan, who has yet to win anywhere, pledged to carry on his fight to the end of the primary season.

Mr. Clinton, the Arkansas governor, gained a big advantage in delegates as he sent the Democratic campaign hurtling toward a potentially crucial duel in the Great Lakes states of Illinois and Michigan next Tuesday.

His Sun Belt sweep makes him the clear Democratic front-runner, although a drop in voter turnout from 1988 suggests that Southern Democrats aren't excited about any of the candidates this year, raising new questions about the party's chances of carrying those states in the fall.

"The people of the South heard the worst about me, but they saw the best," Mr. Clinton crowed to supporters in Illinois, the next state on the primary calendar and the place he hopes to put a lock on the nomination.

"They know that the true measure of character in politics cannotbe perfection, because if it were, no one would pass," he said. "The true measure is rooted in the desire to do better."

His main rival, Paul E. Tsongas, won primaries yesterday in Massachusetts, his home state, and neighboring Rhode Island and scored a narrow victory in the Delaware caucuses. But he did not come close in any Southern state, including Florida, where he had tried to pull an upset.

"Florida is his home turf," said Mr. Tsongas, conceding that state before the polls even closed. "He spent a lot of money, a lot of negative advertising. It worked."

Later, in a defiant speech to hometown supporters in Lowell, Mass., the former senator warned Mr. Clinton: "You're not going to pander your way to the White House as long as I'm around."

"Super Tuesday was meant to eliminate somebody like me. Well, I'm still here," said Mr. Tsongas.

Mr. Clinton has yet to win a primary outside the South. Victories next week in the Midwest industrial states of Illinois and Michigan would make him the heavy favorite to win the nomination.

Aside from Florida and Texas, he scored primary victories yesterday in Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee and also won the Missouri caucuses.

His regional advantage -- six of the Super Tuesday states border his own -- could be seen in exit polls of native-born Southerners, who cast fully half the Democratic primary vote in the South.

If there was a blemish on Mr. Clinton's triumph, it may have been his relatively poor showing in New England, where he was struggling to do better than the third candidate in the race, former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, who was running second in Massachusetts and a close third in Rhode Island.

After next week, the campaign moves to the Northeast for a series of primaries in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

In addition, exit polls showed that even in the South, where Mr. Clinton rolled up huge vote margins in several states, one of every four Democrats who voted yesterday expressed doubts about his integrity.

For Mr. Bush, the results were a rerun of past primaries in which a significant number of Republicans, almost one in three, cast protest votes for Patrick J. Buchanan.

Among Republican primary voters in Florida, 41 percent disapproved of Mr. Bush's handling of his job as president, and almost half the Buchanan voters said they would not support Mr. Bush in the fall.

Even in Texas, the president's adopted home state, 36 percent of Republican primary voters said they disapproved of his job performance.

However, challenger Buchanan failed to come closer to Mr. Bush than he has in previous primaries this year. In Louisiana, where he had hoped to do best, he managed only 28 percent; his biggest vote of the day came in Florida, where he drew almost one-third of the GOP total, despite having made almost no effort at all.

His failure to expand his base is likely to lead the Republican establishment to turn up the volume on demands that he quit the race.

However, Mr. Buchanan has threatened to keep his candidacy alive through the California primary in June, even if he loses every state. And yesterday he added a new condition for supporting Mr. Bush in the fall.

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