McCain campaign picks up momentum

New Hampshire: Primary shatters Bush's aura of invincibility, while Gore gains strength vs. Bradley.

February 03, 2000

WHATEVER happened to the notion of a George W. Bush dynastic coronation as the Republican presidential nominee?

The Texas governor raised $70 million and is backed by top party leaders. But he didn't fare as well as expected in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 24, and he was steamrollered Tuesday in New Hampshire by Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Momentum swung to Mr. McCain, who has earned a reputation for speaking his mind and fighting entrenched Establishment ways. New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly favored his independent streak.

Still, the Texas governor remains the favorite. He goes into the next key primary in South Carolina on Feb. 19 with far more money and local backing. But Mr. McCain intends to conduct a grass-roots, high-visibility bus tour of the state. Another stunning upset could set the stage for a decisive shootout in 13 states -- including Maryland -- on March 7.

The Bush campaign has been carefully stage-managed and financed by big-money backers. But next to the "let's be blunt" approach of Mr. McCain, it looks artificial. Mr. McCain has hit a responsive chord with voters by calling for campaign finance reforms.

Now Bush supporters are portraying the Arizona senator as a "liberal" for his maverick positions -- a laughable charge to Democrats but one that is taken seriously in a party of conservatives.

Meanwhile, Vice President Al Gore picked up another significant primary victory in New Hampshire over former Sen. Bill Bradley. The vice president came from far behind to win and enjoys a broad lead in national polls.

He and Mr. Bradley know March 7 is the big day, especially in such delegate-rich states as California (367 delegates), New York (243) and Ohio (146).

The vice president has the better organization, more support from party leaders and a considerable head of steam. Still, Mr. Bradley is running as a political outsider and with more campaign money to spend. He's still competitive. It will remain a wide-open Democratic campaign for at least another five weeks.

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