Forbes' lone campaigning pays off as he wins 12 delegates in Delaware Dole finishes second, Buchanan is third

Campaign 1996

February 25, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WILMINTON, DEL. — WILMINGTON, Del. -- On a spring-like day as suited for baseball as politics, Steve Forbes hit a home run yesterday in Delaware.

After campaigning aggressively in a Republican presidential primary boycotted by the other top contenders, the multimillionaire publisher won an election he couldn't afford to lose. He was the only major candidate to campaign in the nation's second primary.

Speaking through an amplified telephone hookup from Arizona, site of a Republican primary Tuesday, Mr. Forbes said his win in Delaware -- the first of his brief political career -- was the boost his candidacy needed.

"I never make predictions, but I think we're going to do very well in Arizona," he told a small but lively group of Republicans last night at a downtown Wilmington hotel. "Delaware's primary does count."

In Delaware's first-ever presidential primary, Mr. Forbes won the small state's 12 GOP delegates in the winner-take-all contest with 32 percent of the vote. With 94 percent of the returns in, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole was second with 26 percent, followed by TV commentator Patrick J. Buchanan with 18 percent, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander 13 percent, Maryland's Alan Keyes 9 percent and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar 2 percent.

In search of its few minutes of primary renown, Delaware, the second-smallest state, scheduled its primary four days after New Hampshire's premier event. That was too close for the Granite State, accustomed to a traditional seven-day buffer, so New Hampshire's governor pressured the candidates to shun Delaware. All complied except Mr. Forbes, Mr. Keyes and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who dropped out of the race 11 days ago.

That left the First State -- so named for being the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution -- with an election that the nation, including much of Delaware, virtually ignored.

Republican turnout was a dismal 22 percent of the 137,000 registered Republicans. In the Democratic primary, President Clinton trounced fringe candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. with 90 percent of the vote.

None of the candidates spent any time in Delaware yesterday, leaving state Republicans to celebrate their first primary alone in a banquet room at the Sheraton Suites hotel.

"I think this primary will stick," said Pete DuPont, a former GOP governor of the state and presidential candidate. "Four years from now, now that Delaware's on the map, I think all the candidates will be here."

Mr. Forbes, who finished fourth in both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, pulled out all the stops in Delaware. He campaigned here three days last week, advertised heavily on TV and radio for months and deluged registered Republicans with mailings.

Mr. Keyes, who lives in Maryland's Montgomery County, campaigned in Delaware two days. Mr. Dole shunned the state in person, but his voice made an appearance. While flying Wednesday from New Hampshire to the Dakotas, he spoke by telephone at a news conference at which Delaware Sen. William V. Roth Jr. announced his support for Mr. Dole.

Delaware created its inaugural primary to replace two outdated selection methods: the Republicans' state convention and the Democrats' caucus. Political leaders then scheduled it four days after New Hampshire's, hoping the candidates would flock here before dispersing throughout the country for the coming rush of primaries.

After only Mr. Forbes, Mr. Gramm and Mr. Keyes sought spots on the Republican ballot, the state General Assembly passed a law putting all the candidates on whether they wanted to be or not.

"This is absolutely fantastic," Basil R. Battaglia, chairman of the Delaware Republican Party, said over and over last night to anyone who would listen.

"Sure, we were a little disappointed when all the candidates didn't come. But this is our first primary. This is just a start."

Delegate count

Here is the count so far of delegates to the Republican presidential nominating convention. At least 996 delegates, a simple majority of the total of 1,990, are needed to win the nomination.

Patrick J. Buchanan 27 Steve Forbes 17 Sen. Bob Dole 16 Lamar Alexander 9 Sen. Phil Gramm 5 Alan L. Keyes 1 Rep. Robert K. Dornan 0 Sen. Richard G. Lugar 0 Morry Taylor 0 Uncommitted 3

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