Dole tries to unify party But Buchanan, Forbes aren't finished fighting

Campaign 1996

March 07, 1996|By Paul West and Susan Baer | Paul West and Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

AUSTIN, Texas -- Sen. Bob Dole kicked off the next phase of the Republican presidential campaign yesterday, the one in which the presumptive nominee tries to heal his fractured party.

If the first day was any indication, Mr. Dole's mission of party unification will be neither quick nor easy.

Patrick J. Buchanan, his most acerbic rival, conceded that Mr. Dole's nomination "now appears inevitable." But he vowed to press on all the way to the Republican convention in San Diego, and he tore into the Senate majority leader yesterday with some of the most caustic language he has used thus far. The Dole campaign, Mr. Buchanan charged, is "hollow" and an "empty vessel," and bereft of excitement, passion or even ideas.

"You go to a Dole rally, you think you stumbled into a funeral parlor," Mr. Buchanan told a ferociously fervent crowd of several hundred packed into a hotel tent in Tampa, Fla.

Speaking of his own campaign, Mr. Buchanan bellowed: "The cause is more important than the man. We're going to fight this all the way to San Diego. They ask me, 'How long are you going to fight?' We're gonna fight till hell freezes over. Then we're gonna fight on the ice."

Steve Forbes, the other major challenger, managed yesterday to win a long-awaited endorsement from Jack F. Kemp, the former New York congressman and U.S. housing secretary, and, Mr. Forbes, too, showed no signs that he is about to quit.

For his part, Mr. Dole hinted that the time had come for Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Forbes to drop out, and said he hoped they would withdraw if they fare poorly in today's primary in New York, where Mr. Dole is heavily favored.

On the day after his sweep of primaries in eight states, including Maryland, Mr. Dole picked up the endorsement of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, the state with the biggest prize in next week's "Super Tuesday" round of seven primaries.

The Senate majority leader looked tired and sounded flat as he stood outside the governor's mansion in Austin, with the eldest son of his one-time Republican rival, former President George Bush.

The two men later flew to Houston and posed with the former president, who will not formally endorse Mr. Dole until the Republican race is over.

Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana also endorsed Mr. Dole yesterday as they withdrew from the race.

Mr. Dole now has 276 delegates, four times as many as his nearest rival, Mr. Forbes. It will likely be next month before Mr. Dole amasses the 996 delegates required to become the nominee.

In the meantime, Mr. Buchanan, who has 51 delegates, hopes to pick up as many delegates as possible by the end of the primary season in June, to gain leverage for pressing his views on trade, abortion and other issues, on the party's platform writers.

He refused to go so far as to pledge to support Mr. Dole if the senator from Kansas wins the nomination.

In 1992, Mr. Buchanan eventually threw his support behind Mr. Bush, whom he had challenged for the nomination.

"I think he will," Mr. Dole said. "He's been a lifelong Republican. I've known him for 20, 30 years, and I hope we'll be able to come together for the good of the party. Our goal is not to beat each other up here for the next three months. Our goal is to get ready to defeat Bill Clinton in November."

But Mr. Buchanan appeared to have shifted gears yesterday, talking more about his crusade than about the party's nomination.

"This is a cause," he said. "It's a run for the nomination, but not simply a run for the nomination."

He said he had already had "tremendous impact" on the race, having shined a spotlight on the plight of American middle-class workers, on immigration and on abortion. And Mr. Buchanan said one of the reasons he was pressing on with his campaign was to save the "right-to-life" anti-abortion plank in the Republican Party platform.

Mr. Buchanan asserted that he has amassed such large and fervent support that if Mr. Dole tried to pull the anti-abortion plank from the platform -- or weaken it -- at the Republican convention, "he can watch a significant part of the convention walk right out of the hall."

Many supporters at yesterday's spirited Buchanan rally in Tampa -- where the screams of "Go, Pat, Go" and "We love you, Pat" were even more exuberant than in the past -- said they were resigned to the fact that their candidate would not win the nomination. But they said they still wanted to send a message.

"I'll stay with him -- Pat's an emotional candidate to me," said Andy Jones, a retired military officer. "But, realistically, this is more of a statement that the status quo has to be changed or influenced. Maybe not this year [for Mr. Buchanan]. Maybe the year 2000."

Mindful of Mr. Buchanan's numerous supporters, Mr. Dole praised him yesterday for having "touched on some problems that ought to be addressed when it comes to trade, people losing their jobs, [or] afraid they may lose their jobs."

"I'm a common-sense conservative," said the 72-year-old senator, rehearsing his appeal to the Buchananites. "I've been voting that way a long time."

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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