Gramm backs Dole, calls him best qualified to unite party Move underscores fears within GOP of Buchanan's surge

Campaign 1996

February 19, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun national staff writer Paul West contributed to this article.

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Heading into tomorrow's presidential primary here with only the slimmest of leads, Sen. Bob Dole received the endorsement yesterday of former Republican candidate Phil Gramm.

Mr. Gramm, the Texas senator who bowed out of the race after a dismal fifth-place showing in last week's Iowa caucuses, traveled to Manchester yesterday to throw his support behind his former rival and rejoin what remains a bitter campaign.

Mr. Gramm said he was endorsing the Senate majority leader because he thought Mr. Dole was the only candidate who could bring together the party's economic and social conservatives, "and who can make the Republican party again one united party that is committed to beating Bill Clinton and is committed to changing America."

"I do not believe there is another candidate in this race that can bring together both halves of our party and make it a whole," Mr. Gramm said at a news conference with Mr. Dole.

"And if we're just a party of economic conservatives or if we're just the party of social conservatives, we are not going to beat Bill Clinton, we are not going to change America, and we are going to miss a historic moment where we can bring back the American dream."

The endorsement by Mr. Gramm -- who, during his campaign portrayed Mr. Dole as an old-fashioned Washington deal-maker not suited to be president -- underscores the increasing fear of some Republicans that commentator Patrick Buchanan could overtake the Kansas senator in this week's primary.

Mr. Buchanan, whose protectionist views and history of inflammatory remarks are anathema to many Republicans, is just one percentage point behind Mr. Dole in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. Not far behind Mr. Dole, who received 26 percentage points, and Mr. Buchanan, who has 25, is former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander at 20 percentage points.

Mr. Dole said Mr. Gramm's "stamp of approval" would help him win more conservative support. Asked how much he had to win by in order to come out of New Hampshire in a strong position, Mr. Dole said, "I'll take one vote."

Both Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Alexander were quick to make light of the endorsement from Mr. Gramm, who was receiving only 5 percent in polls here when he pulled out.

Mr. Buchanan said he thought Mr. Gramm had "zero" support in this state and quipped that the embattled front-runner probably called Mr. Gramm as a "desperate, last-ditch" effort to save his candidacy. "This is probably a phone call to Phil Gramm, saying, 'Help Phil, we're going under,' " he said.

Mr. Alexander, at a campaign stop at Steve's Sportsman's Den and Tackle Shop in Hooksett, said, "If endorsements were going to elect Bob Dole, he would already be king."

Mr. Dole, who has been trying to portray Mr. Alexander as a tax-and-spend liberal in recent days as the former governor moves closer to him in the polls, took another swipe at him yesterday. "Some people don't know what his philosophy is," Mr. Dole said of the candidate with the trademark lumberjack shirt. "It's sort of plaid. You never know quite where he is on the issues."

Such remarks were typical of sniping that has continued in this campaign, even as the candidates disavow negative campaigning, and the voters make clear their disdain for it.

Although he did not refer to Mr. Buchanan by name, Mr. Gramm -- who lost to the former columnist and commentator in the Louisiana caucuses -- alluded to the charges of racism within the Buchanan camp, including a suggestion that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke helped Buchanan win in Louisiana. Mr. Buchanan has denied those charges.

"In the party of Bob Dole and Phil Gramm, there's no room for racism," Mr. Gramm said. "You don't see David Duke standing up here."

At a campaign rally in Nashua yesterday, an almost giddy Mr. Buchanan said the Washington establishment was "quaking in its boots" over the success of his candidacy.

"They are in a terminal panic," he told a buoyant crowd of several hundred who packed a hotel ballroom. "They hear the shouts of the peasants from over the hill. You watch the establishment, all the knights and barons will be riding into the castle, hauling up the drawbridge. We're coming. All the peasants are coming with pitchforks."

He also raised the abortion issue, accusing his opponents of "waffling around, ducking and hiding, bucking and weaving."

Yesterday, the National Right to Life Committee ran full-page ads in local newspapers advising people not to vote for Mr. Alexander or publishing magnate Steve Forbes. "Steve Forbes Dances On the Fence Lamar Alexander Tries to Straddle It," the ad said.

Mr. Alexander, although he calls himself "pro-life," says he would not support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the landmark Roe Vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal. "I believe that in this country we should move back to state restriction," he said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Even in this state where taxes and other money issues usually dominate, such social issues have become a key part of the presidential debate.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley" yesterday, Mr. Buchanan said parents should have a right to insist that "godless evolution" not be taught to their children.

And Mr. Buchanan said he would not consider former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin L. Powell as a running mate because he didn't agree with him on social issues or on foreign policy.

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