So it is to be George Bush versus Bill Clinton in November? These two politicians did so well in yesterday's crucial Illinois and Michigan primaries that they are virtually assured their parties' nominations. Their clear emergence is matched by the decline of TV commentator Pat Buchanan on the Republican side and former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas on the Democratic.
At this stage, only former California Gov. Jerry Brown remains a wild card by virtue of his second-place finish in Michigan ahead of Mr. Tsongas. In a pattern somewhat reminiscent of the 1976 presidential primaries, Mr. Brown is coming on strong later rather than earlier, perhaps cashing in on voter dissatisfaction with the putative nominee.
With their huge delegations, New York on April 7 and California on June 2 still are up for grabs. This makes the Arkansas governor more vulnerable than Mr. Bush, first because his party's rules make it difficult to amass a majority and third because his campaign so far has been buffeted by on sensation after another.
Nevertheless, Mr. Clinton has to be happy with his victories in key upper Midwest industrial states. These results, more than any heretofore, constitute his answer to doubts among party big-wigs whether he is more than a regionial candidate. Yet the doubts will remain about his "electability" becuase a primary runoff is one thing, a head-to-head battle with Mr. Bush is another.
While the president may now consider his renomination assured, he has to worry about his standing in the Republican Party. Buchanan conservatives have their eyes on control of the GOP after November and in the runup to 1996. Still to be determined, TTC however, is whether Mr. Buchanan's isolationism and protectionism will prevail in a party that has been internationalist and pro-free trade in the postwar era. The battle for the heart if not the nomination of the GOP has just begun.
As the Bush-Buchanan debate has cooled, tempers have flared hotly in Democratic ranks. Yet there is really less a defined ideological divide among the Democrats. Mr Brown is too mercurial, too prone to reinvent himself year by year, to have a discernible compass. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Tsongas, in contrast, are both essentially on a wave-length with the moderate wing of their party, which seems at least to have relized that old-style liberalism just doesn't win elections.
So it's on to Connecticut, New York and points West. The race is still on but its probable ending is clarifing quickly.