Dole is poised to win majority of New York delegates Kemp's backing of Forbes is not expected to swing vote in today's primary

March 07, 1996|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- Sen. Bob Dole is poised to take another big step toward the 1996 Republican presidential nomination today in the delegate-rich New York primary, despite yesterday's endorsement of Steve Forbes by Jack F. Kemp, a former New York congressman and housing secretary in the Bush administration.

Hailing Mr. Kemp's support as "an enormous boost," Mr. Forbes called him "my guru-in-chief" in favor of the flat tax, the centerpiece of the Forbes campaign. "He's been in many of these battles before," Mr. Forbes said. "He's not one to be put aside lightly in the coming battles ahead."

But Mr. Kemp, though popular in his home state, has not been active in its Republican politics and isn't expected to change the outlook for a major victory for Mr. Dole today.

New York Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato predicted that Mr. Dole, backed by the state party organization, would win "at least 90 percent" of the 93 delegates in the 31 congressional districts. Nine more delegates will be chosen by the state party committee.

Even so, Mr. Kemp pledged that in the Forbes campaign "that's going all the way to San Diego I will be at Steve's side in Florida, Texas, California [and] wherever and whenever I possibly and humanly can be." He pointedly criticized Mr. D'Amato and Gov. George E. Pataki for suggesting that the flat tax would severely hurt New York taxpayers.

The endorsement by Mr. Kemp came as two other candidates, former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Ricard G. Lugar of Indiana, bowed out and endorsed Mr. Dole. After Mr. Dole's primary victories Tuesday, Mr. Alexander said, it was clear that the Senate leader was the party's choice. Mr. Lugar said he would stay off the ballot in Indiana's primary May 7 and would urge his supporters to vote for Mr. Dole.

The ballot system in New York is likely to benefit Mr. Dole. In each New York district, well-known party figures are running as Dole delegates, with their names displayed first on the ballot and their candidate affiliation in smaller print. Mr. Forbes and Patrick J. Buchanan, by contrast, have little-known slates of delegates.

A poll of 515 registered Republicans last week by the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion found 49 percent for Mr. Dole, 21 percent for Mr. Buchanan and 17 percent for Mr. Forbes.

Time restrictions imposed by the delegate-selection calendar -- only two days for campaigning here after Tuesday's contests -- reduced the New York primary to frenetic fly-arounds by the three candidates, who focused on upstate, where the bulk of Republican voters are. Only Mr. Forbes, who spent a reported $1 million in legal fees to ensure ballot positions, was in the state yesterday.

Mr. Forbes and Mr. Dole have delegate candidates on the ballot in all 31 districts, Mr. Buchanan in 23. With the D'Amato-led organization actively discouraging Mr. Forbes and Mr. Buchanan, their slates managed to qualify last week when a federal court ruled that state laws imposed an "undue burden" on candidates other than the party choice.

On the day that former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana bowed out of the race, Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Forbes vowed to continue campaigning all the way to the national convention in August. But a Dole victory here of the dimensions predicted by Mr. D'Amato would give the Senate majority leader more than one-third of the 996 delegates he needs for the nomination, with no one else close.

As in earlier primaries, Mr. Forbes has spent lavishly on TV ads, possibly more than $1 million in the past few days.

In a state with as many TV markets as New York, that sum could not begin to blanket the voting audience that Mr. Forbes could cover in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and the two whose primaries he won, Delaware and Arizona.

In New York, Mr. Forbes eschewed negative ads. Mostly, he noted that he had proposed a flat tax and that Mr. Dole had opposed it.

The Senate majority leader, in a speech here Tuesday, warned that Mr. Forbes' plan would deny New Yorkers the federal income-tax deduction for state and local taxes that is substantial in this high-tax state. That argument was raised against Mr. Forbes in other states, too, but it could have particular resonance in New York.

Mr. Buchanan, who has stayed out of New York City entirely, has been subject to harsh opposition from Republican leaders here who agree with Mr. Dole that the former Nixon and Reagan White House aide is "too extreme."

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York City, while not formally endorsing Mr. Dole, has said he will vote for him today as "the most effective way to send the message that Pat Buchanan is unacceptable" to New York.

The same hostility toward Mr. Buchanan is seen among party leaders in the 14th Congressional District, which runs along the East Side of Manhattan, with pockets in Queens and Brooklyn -- the old "Silk Stocking District" that is now mostly Democratic but is still the richest in the country.

State Sen. Roy Goodman, who heads the Dole slate in the district, says $30,000 was raised for phone banks and direct mail to elect the slate. In this district of moderate Republicans, Mr. Goodman says, Mr. Buchanan "is anathema."

City Councilman Andrew Eristoff, a Dole alternate delegate, agrees.

"People in my area are genuinely frightened by what Pat Buchanan stands for," he says. "This is a city built on integration, trade and immigrants, and on those three Pat Buchanan is unacceptable."

Turnout today is questionable because this is the first contested Republican presidential primary ever held here, and it is on a Thursday instead of the usual Tuesday election day to avoid a conflict with a Jewish holiday.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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