Bush, Clinton romp in Midwest voting What happened: GOP, Democratic rivals fading in bids for party nominations

March 18, 1992|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau Staff writer Karen Hosler and researcher Roman Ponos contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton scored industrial-strength Midwest primary victories yesterday that pushed their rivals to the brink of elimination in the 1992 presidential race.

Mr. Clinton won his first primaries outside the South by lopsided margins in both Illinois and Michigan, and the nomination now appears his to lose. But because of Democratic Party rules, it could be months before he has enough convention delegates to assure that he will be the nominee.

"I want to scream and shout and shake your hands tonight," the Arkansas governor told a rally at the Palmer House in Chicago. "This is a victory for the forces of change, for the people who believe that we can do better. Because we can."

His main rival, Paul E. Tsongas, vowed to fight on in the Connecticut primary next Tuesday. But he has faded badly in recent weeks and is in danger of being eclipsed by Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., who ran well-ahead of him in Michigan.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush may have effectively ended the Republican nomination contest by crushing conservative challenger Patrick J. Buchanan in Michigan. The TV pundit heads back to Washington this morning and is expected to announce that he will be drastically scaling back his campaign.

In a statement issued last night at the White House, Mr. Bush said his latest victories "have pushed the delegate count to a level where my nomination is virtually assured."

Mr. Buchanan's campaign manager and sister, Angela Bay Buchanan, all but conceded the race, saying her brother "will not accomplish" his goal of winning the nomination. But Mr. Buchanan sounded anything but finished when he announced to cheering supporters in Plymouth, Mich., last night: "We're going to keep right on rolling."

Among the Democrats, Mr. Clinton reaped the benefits of a masterful political organizing effort in Illinois that had begun even before he announced his candidacy.

Clinton campaign advisers have long said Illinois would be the "coup de grace" in the Democratic race. Up to now, however, many Democratic officials have been reluctant to climb aboard the Clinton express because of doubts about his character and fears that additional damaging information could emerge.

Mr. Tsongas, who ran a weak second in Illinois and an anemic third in Michigan, has failed to extend his appeal beyond upscale, suburban voters. He ran even with Mr. Clinton among voters earning $75,000 or more, according to network exit polls, but lost badly among other income groups.

In Hartford, Conn., last night, the former Massachusetts senator congratulated Mr. Clinton on his double victory, prompting scattered boos from supporters.

"The fact is, he went into two large states and did well. And when someone does something well, you have to stand back and acknowledge it and give him credit, and I do that tonight," Mr. Tsongas said, in tone of conciliation sharply at odds with the bitter rhetoric of recent weeks.

Mr. Brown's second-place finish in Michigan strengthened his bid to become the alternative to Mr. Clinton in the closing weeks of the race. Clad in a bright-blue union windbreaker, Mr. Brown had campaigned hard among organized labor's members in the state, which has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent years and currently has the nation's worst unemployment rate.

"At this point, or very soon, I will be given a hearing for what it is we're asking of our party and our country," Mr. Brown said on Cable News Network last night. "And when that occurs, then there'll be a real choice between Mr. Clinton and (me)."

He said the next phase of the Democratic race "is much larger than Brown and Clinton. It's about the soul of the party and the direction of this country."

With his anti-politics message, Mr. Brown was well-positioned to capitalize on the anger of those hit hard by the recession. And TV network exit polls found that three of every five Brown voters in Michigan and Illinois said their families were worse off financially. He also took one-third of the votes from labor union households.

However, the story of the day among Democrats was the wide victory margins that Mr. Clinton posted in Illinois and Michigan, states regarded by both political parties as pivotal in the fall election.

One measure of the breadth of Mr. Clinton's triumph was the fact that he defeated Mr. Brown among voters from union households in Michigan, according to exit polls, pulling a clear majority of that vote.

Mr. Clinton had been accused of being anti-union, because Arkansas is a so-called "right-to-work" state that has promoted itself overseas as a cheap labor market and because he broke with organized labor over several issues.

The Clinton coalition yesterday closely matched the biracial one he put together a week earlier in a Southern primary sweep. He captured better than three of every four black votes in Michigan and Illinois and ran well among lower-income voters of all races.

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