WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton put his front-running Democratic presidential campaign back on track yesterday with a sweep of three primaries, including a crucial victory in New York.
The Arkansas governor appeared to gain the primary sweep he needed to set himself on a glide path to the nomination. In addition to New York he won Kansas and Wisconsin, and in a non-binding primary in Minnesota he held a narrow lead with 89 percent of the vote reported.
In a surprise, former candidate Paul E. Tsongas beat out Jerry Brown for second place in New York. Mr. Tsongas, whose name remained on the ballot even though he quit the race three weeks ago, was to announce tomorrow or Friday whether he is restarting his campaign.
Mr. Clinton, in a theatrical victory display at a New York nightclub, called this week "a turning point." His supporters hailed his performance as evidence the Democratic contest was all but over, though it could take weeks or months for him to pile up enough delegates to clinch the nomination.
"The last two weeks have been like a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone. . . . Now that I've been through it all, I've got to admit, I had a ball," a buoyant but hoarse Mr. Clinton told a rally at The Ritz. "This may be the best New York story since the Amazing Mets [won the pennant] in 1969. Their slogan back then should be our motto tonight: 'You gotta believe.' "
The leadership of the national party, eager for an end to the increasingly ugly Democratic race, echoed the Clinton line.
Democratic National Chairman Ronald H. Brown declared Mr. Clinton a three-state winner last night even before results in Wisconsin were in.
The party chairman said on Cable News Network that Mr. Clinton's showing was "a major step in his quest to become the nominee of the Democratic Party."
But even as the chairman was trying to bring the intraparty fight to a close, there were signs the contest would not only continue indefinitely but could widen.
Former Governor Brown said last night that Pennsylvania, which holds the next major primary, on April 28, was "a state we have to win." But he also told supporters in New York City that he would stay in the race for "as long as it takes," giving no sign that he might quit before the June 2 primary in his home state of California.
Meantime, Mr. Tsongas postponed a news conference scheduled for today, at which he had been expected to announce his plans. Speaking to reporters outside his Lowell, Mass., home last night, he said he had promised supporters that he would take at least another day to analyze the latest results.
"Let me say, the message survives," Mr. Tsongas said, describing the vote that he received yesterday as unprecedented. "I thought we would do well. I didn't think we would do this well."
But the former senator said he had no intention of becoming "a spoiler," and exit-poll data gave little encouragement to those who still hope he could become the nominee. Almost half of Mr. Tsongas' support was actually a "none of the above" protest vote against the other two candidates, rather than a positive one for the former Massachusetts senator, the poll indicated.
Indeed, in the Kansas primary, where Mr. Clinton was the victor, an uncommitted line was running a close race for second with Mr. Tsongas and Mr. Brown.
The result was similar on the Republican side in Kansas. President Bush easily defeated Patrick J. Buchanan, who was running third, behind uncommitted, in early returns.
Mr. Bush also won the GOP primaries in Wisconsin and Minnesota. There was no GOP primary in New York, where party officials made sure Mr. Bush faced no opposition, while Minnesota Democrats held a presidential "beauty contest."
Mr. Bush, who has adopted an above-the-fray posture after being embarrassed by Mr. Buchanan in the early primaries, went to the theater last night in Washington, rather than following the returns at the White House.
"Today's results are another endorsement of our proposals for fundamental reform," said a White House statement released in the president's name. "While the Democrats offer only confusion, we are earning a mandate to change America as we changed the world."
But displeasure with Mr. Bush's performance as president, and dismay over the choice of candidates that was being offered, was the message sent by many voters -- and non-voters -- yesterday.
In Kansas, traditionally one of the most Republican states in the nation, 43 percent of GOP primary voters gave Mr. Bush an unfavorable job rating, while 51 percent rated him favorably.
Continuing a trend that was evident in earlier primary states, most of those who bothered to vote said they wished someone else was running. Two-thirds of primary voters in New York yearned for someone else to get in, the exit poll found.
Nonetheless, Mr. Bush will clinch the GOP nomination early next month, and, for Democratic "wannabes," it is too late to enter all but one of the remaining primaries.