Commentator joins contest for GOP presidential nod

BUCHANAN DECLARES CANDIDACY

March 21, 1995|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Patrick J. Buchanan, whose 1992 conservative challenge was the beginning of the end of George Bush's presidency, formally jumped into the contest for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination yesterday.

In his announcement speech, the TV commentator put forward an America-first program that promised tougher control of the nation's borders, more trade protection for its businesses and a "star wars" anti-missile defense for its people.

"This campaign is about an America that once again looks out for its own people and our own country first," Mr. Buchanan told an enthusiastic crowd in Manchester, N.H.

He becomes the third declared candidate for the Republican nomination, a field that could grow with the addition of California Gov. Pete Wilson, who is expected to announce the formation of an exploratory campaign committee this week.

"The Buchanan Brigades are not leap-year conservatives," said Mr. Buchanan, who hopes to out-conservative his Republican rivals. "We stand here today to resume command of the revolution that we began here three years ago."

New Hampshire was the scene of his greatest 1992 triumph, and Mr. Buchanan's speech yesterday repeated many themes from that campaign.

While the starting point was the same, almost everything else is different this time for the 56-year-old native Washingtonian.

Mr. Buchanan is no longer a protest candidate taking on a weak incumbent. Instead, he must compete against several other conservatives -- with relatively little money, an uncertain base of support and a long-shot strategy for the nomination.

His speech yesterday drew four hecklers -- who charged the stage, shouting "racist," "fascist" and "anti-Semite" before being dragged away. One identified himself as Ronn Torossian, a spokesman for a group calling itself the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha, the Associated Press reported.

"Now you know what we're fighting against in this country, my friends," ad-libbed the former Nixon and Reagan White House aide, who in the past has strenuously denied allegations that he is anti-Semitic.

But the real question for Mr. Buchanan is whether his candidacy can generate excitement among Republican primary voters, especially in the face of competition from better-funded conservatives like Sens. Bob Dole of Kansas and Phil Gramm of Texas.

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, whose members Mr. Buchanan hopes to win over, said Mr. Buchanan is the only candidate who speaks to the concerns of religious conservatives on such issues as the free-trade agreement with Mexico and the new world-trade pact. Still, added Mr. Reed, his group's members are less inclined to support Mr. Buchanan over other candidates "because he's viewed as less likely to win."

Many of Mr. Buchanan's old supporters in New Hampshire, where he stunned the Bush forces by taking 37 percent of the primary vote in 1992, have either signed up with other candidates or are holding back.

Former Rep. Chuck Douglas of New Hampshire, who chaired the 1992 Buchanan campaign in the state but is on the sidelines now, said Mr. Buchanan "may be confusing that anti-Bush vote with a pro-Pat vote."

The 1992 Buchanan effort may have largely been a vehicle for anti-Bush anger, but there seems little doubt that he was ahead of the curve.

His hard-edged address at the 1992 Republican convention -- in which he proclaimed that Republicans were waging a religious and cultural war for the soul of America -- was attacked by critics, who said it reflected an attitude of extremism and intolerance within the party.

But since then, many of the controversial positions he took in the 1992 campaign -- curbing immigration, ending "reverse discrimination" against whites, slashing foreign aid -- have been adopted by Republican leaders in Congress and by other 1996 presidential contenders.

Even the target of the Buchanan convention speech -- Bill Clinton -- has moved to co-opt the family values issue and seems to be moving Mr. Buchanan's way on affirmative action.

Mr. Buchanan, taking note of that yesterday, crowed: "We may have lost that nomination, my friends, but you and I have won the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Four years ago, we came here to say no to tax hikes and no to quota bills, and now every Republican says no to tax hikes and no to quota bills and no to affirmative action."

Though he is expected to pitch his primary campaign to the moral and social concerns that energize conservative activists, Mr. Buchanan made only passing reference to moral values in his speech and did not even mention abortion.

He did denounce the "lewdness and violence" that he said has "polluted" American culture, vowing to "chase the purveyors of sex and violence back beneath the rocks whence they came."

Nor did he stress one of the outsider issues -- term limits for Congress -- that he plans to use against Washington-based career politicians Mr. Dole and Mr. Gramm.

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