Forbes wins Ariz. stunner Dole captures the Dakotas

Unexpected result throws GOP race into new turmoil

Alexander a weak fourth

Dole edges Buchanan for 2nd in Western winner-take-all

Campaign 1996

February 28, 1996|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Susan Baer contributed to this article.

PHOENIX -- Steve Forbes scored a startling upset victory yesterday over Sen. Bob Dole and Patrick J. Buchanan in the Arizona primary, throwing the race for the Republican presidential nomination into new turmoil.

With 79 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Forbes had 33 percent of the vote; Mr. Dole, 30 percent; Mr. Buchanan, 27 percent; and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, 7 percent. Two other candidates -- Alan L. Keyes, a former U.S. Senate candidate in Maryland, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar -- had 1 percent each.

"We believe deeply that America has the potential for the greatest economic boom and spiritual renewel in its history," the multimillionaire publisher told wildly cheering supporters here last night.

"A week ago, they wrote our obituary. Now, tonight, we can perhaps write the obituary of conventional political punditry in America."

Mr. Dole attributed his defeat in the winner-take-all Arizona primary -- the biggest delegate prize to date -- to Mr. Forbes' spending millions of his own dollars on TV ads to undercut him.

"Forbes spent $4 million -- that's what happened," Mr. Dole said. "What he does, when he spends all that money, it helps Buchanan and drives me down. It doesn't drive him up."

But Mr. Forbes' own vote far exceeded most expectations. In polls in advance of election day, he ran a relatively weak third. He was not in Arizona for much of the last week, focusing instead on the Delaware primary that he won Saturday basically unchallenged. But his TV ads blanketed the Arizona airwaves.

Speaking to reporters last night in Atlanta, Mr. Buchanan congratulated Mr. Forbes on his victory. The news commentator said he, too, could not overcome the "millions and millions" of dollars the publishing magnate put into his Arizona campaign.

"I don't know how inexhaustible his resources of money are, but we're going to find out," Mr. Buchanan said.

Mr. Buchanan, who campaigned hard in Arizona and had predicted a victory there, said he was "obviously disappointed."

"If I'd won Arizona, I don't see how they would have stopped me from the nomination," he said. "Clearly, it's going to be a much longer, drawn-out battle, but I still believe we're going to win the nomination."

For both Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Dole, Mr. Forbes' victory was a severe jolt. It slowed Mr. Buchanan's insurgency against the Republican establishment, represented most of all by Mr. Dole. And for the Senate majority leader, already struggling to regain his footing after his upset loss to Mr. Buchanan in New Hampshire, the day was a disappointment.

Mr. Forbes attributed his victory to his "optimistic vision for America," and he took a slap at Mr. Buchanan, without naming him, by saying Arizona voters had rejected "a sort of hunker-in-the-bunker mentality," an apparent allusion to Mr. Buchanan's advocacy of trade protectionism.

Overshadowed by the surprising Arizona result were primary victories for Mr. Dole in North and South Dakota yesterday. The two small-state successes in his native Plains States enabled him to claim before the Arizona outcome that last night would be successful "as long as I win two out of three."

But those two victories could not mask the depth of trouble to which Mr. Dole, once considered the "inevitable" nominee, has now sunk.

Mr. Forbes showed unexpected strength in Arizona, a state with a big population of higher-income retirees to whom his flat-tax proposal, which would not tax dividend and interest income, appeared to hold considerable appeal.

Exit polls conducted by Voter News Service, a cooperative of the Associated Press, ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, found that about 60 percent of Arizona voters questioned said they favored a flat tax over a graduated tax rate that requires people with higher incomes to pay higher taxes. Of these, nearly four out of 10 said they had voted for Mr. Forbes.

Also, one of every four Arizona voters said taxes was the issue that most influenced his or her vote. In the Dakotas, the federal budget deficit was the top issue mentioned. And in all three states, voters said that "standing up for what he believes in" was the No. 1 quality they looked for in a candidate. Of these, three out of four said they had voted for Mr. Buchanan.

Again, the 72-year-old Mr. Dole fared best among his own generation. Slightly more than half his support came from voters over age 60. But six of 10 among the 1,395 voters surveyed said his age was not a factor in how they voted; only three in 10 said it worked Mr. Dole won the bulk of the 36 delegates at stake in the Dakotas, distributed in proportion to the vote, with Mr. Buchanan second and Mr. Forbes third. But Mr. Forbes grabbed all 39 of Arizona's delegates, the largest bloc yet in the 1996 Republican race.

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