Brown deals Clinton setback in Conn. Bush trounces Buchanan

March 25, 1992|By Paul West | Paul West,Staff Writer

Angry Connecticut voters slammed the brakes on Bill Clinton's nomination express yesterday, handing Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. an upset victory in his first head-to-head duel with the Arkansas governor.

The startling results were a clear setback to Mr. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. They indicate the party's voters aren't ready to endorse the notion that he has the nomination sewed up. They also put heavy pressure on Mr. Clinton to recoup two weeks from now in the New York primary.

Mr. Brown, the former California governor, triumphed by a slender, 2,700-vote margin on a day when relatively few Democrats bothered to turn out. His victory stirred memories of the string of states he won at the end of the 1976 primary season, after Jimmy Carter had all but clinched the nomination.

"This thing is now coming to New York, and this will be the battle of where the party's going," Mr. Brown said in Brooklyn, N.Y.

He termed his primary victory, his second of the year, "a shocking upset." He has also finished first in two caucus states.

Mr. Brown said on CNN that his candidacy "is going to grow. There's a momentum."

Mr. Clinton termed his Connecticut defeat "a small setback." Though he campaigned as hard as Mr. Brown in Connecticut, he said he had gotten there "a litle late."

LTC "The clear message is: we're going to have to fight for this [nomination]," the Arkansas governor told reporters at a Manhattan steakhouse. Yesterday's loss was "a real wake-up call to all of our folks in New York."

In one of the strangest twists yet in this bizarre election year, Paul E. Tsongas drew one-fifth of the vote, even though he is no longer an active candidate. His unusually large total was yet another indication that many Democrats are unhappy with both of the remaining contenders.

"It shows you what happens when I don't campaign," Mr. Tsongas joked in an interview with the Associated Press. "I think next time I won't run."

Tsongas aides said the former Massachusetts senator has no intention of reversing his decision, announced Thursday, to quit the race.

"People have to accept that it's over," said Peggy Connally, his campaign press secretary.

Mr. Tsongas' name remained on the ballot in Connecticut, as it does in other, upcoming primary states; exit poll results indicated that he might have won if he had kept his candidacy alive.

On the Republican side, President Bush easily defeated Patrick J. Buchanan, though about a tenth of the GOP voters in the state where Mr. Bush grew up cast their ballots for "uncommitted."

Former Louisiana state Representative David Duke got 2 percent.

None of the GOP candidates spent much time in the state, which has been struggling with high unemployment brought on by the economic recession.

Mr. Bush's decision to cancel the Seawolf submarine, built at the Groton, Conn., shipworks, threatens to throw thousands more workers off the job.

"In spite of this," Mr. Bush said in a statement issued by the White House last night, "we won an impressive victory today from people who understand that being president of the United States sometimes means making difficult decisions."

Continued uneasiness with Mr. Bush could be glimpsed in exit poll results that showed two of five Connecticut Republicans disapprove of the job he is doing as president. Mr. Bush carried the state by 52-47 percent in the 1988 general election.

For Mr. Clinton, largely suburban Connecticut turned out to be treacherous territory. Amid predictions that he has the nomination locked up, many of his minority and working-class supporters failed to turn out; more than half of those who did vote had annual incomes above $50,000.

But the exit poll of Democratic voters pointed to another, more disturbing conclusion for Mr. Clinton: that the party isn't comfortable yet with the idea of him as the nominee.

A clear majority of Democratic voters -- 55 percent -- said they wished other candidates had entered the race, the exit poll found, the highest rate of dissatisfaction recorded in any primary state this year. Even among Clinton voters, more than one in three -- 37 percent --yearned for another choice.

More than one in five Clinton voters said they wished Mr. Tsongas had stayed in the race, as did almost two of every five Brown voters.

In the exit poll, Mr. Tsongas got 41 percent of the vote to Mr. Clinton's 28 percent and Mr. Brown's 20 percent.

Mr. Clinton, who, like Mr. Brown, attended Yale Law School in Connecticut and campaigned hard in the state, had cautioned that he might stumble yesterday because of what he termed "buyer's remorse."

But the exit poll findings suggest the anti-Clinton vote did not simply reflect a desire by Democratic voters to keep the race alive.

Nearly half of those who took part in the Connecticut primary expressed doubts about Mr. Clinton's honesty, according to the exit polls.

Forty-six percent of Democratic voters said they did not think the Arkansas governor had the honesty and integrity to be president; 49 percent thought he did.

Mr. Brown's anti-politics message hit home with voters in Connecticut, where voter outrage is running high amid efforts by the state government to impose higher taxes at a time of economic recession.

Almost three-fourths of the Democrats -- 71 percent -- said they agreed with Mr. Brown's criticism of the political system as corrupt.



BROWN--37% .. ..CLINTON--36%.. ..TSONGAS--20%


BUSH--67% .. .. BUCHANAN--22%

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