Gore, Bush poised for triumphs

Surprising strength of McCain's challenge appears to have faded

Gore positioned for sweep

Decisive N.Y. victory within reach for Bush

Bradley needs a miracle

March 05, 2000|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LOS ANGELES -- After months of nonstop campaigning, momentum swings, insurgent uprisings and election-night surprises, the nomination battles seem headed back where they began.

Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the early front-runners in the presidential race, are heavily favored in Tuesday's coast-to-coast round of delegate contests. Both men could well emerge from the biggest primary day in American history as all-but-certain nominees.

"The truth is, with most people saying that the country is going in the right direction and with the overall feeling and mood so positive, Bush and Gore are still the most comfortable fits in their respective parties," says Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster in California. "Under these circumstances, why would voters abandon these guys?"

Not too long ago, that seemed precisely what might happen. Now, though, former Sen. Bill Bradley and Arizona Sen. John McCain are struggling to keep their challenges alive.

McCain, attempting to counter a $2.5 million ad campaign financed by two wealthy Bush backers from Texas, accused his rival's supporters yesterday of trying to "hijack" the GOP race in the key states of New York, California and Ohio. McCain was campaigning in Massachusetts, one of the few March 7 primary states where he has a clear lead over Bush.

Bradley tried to rally backers in New York, the city that still regards him as a pro basketball hero, by summoning the spirit of Harry Truman's 1948 election upset. Polls show Bradley far behind Gore in the Empire State, once considered one of the former New Jersey senator's best shots for a primary victory.

Gore, who campaigned in upstate New York, is positioned to sweep all 16 Super Tuesday contests against Bradley, polls indicate. Bradley has not won a single state.

The vice president is so confident of winning California, the biggest prize of all, that he decided not to return in the final days of the campaign here. He did take time, however, to stop late last week in Florida, which does not vote until March 14.

The Republican fight remains closer. But over the past week, the center of gravity seems to have shifted increasingly in Bush's favor and away from McCain.

Trailing in the GOP delegate tally, McCain needs to carry New York and the New England states and score a California victory, his aides say. But his campaign has stalled in California, where Bush is now strongly favored to win all 162 of the state's delegates.

Most ominously, from McCain's standpoint, Bush may be pulling ahead in New York, which has emerged as the hottest battleground in this week's primaries. Accompanied by former rival Elizabeth Dole, who remains popular among woman voters, Bush spent a second straight day in New York.

A Bush victory there would almost certainly doom McCain, since Bush is also favored to carry Ohio, Missouri and Georgia, the other big delegate states on Tuesday. Twelve states, including Maryland, will hold GOP contests.

Twisting political plot

If Super Tuesday proves decisive -- as many politicians expected from the outset -- it would signal a return to form in a presidential drama that, especially on the Republican side, has featured an extraordinary number of plot twists.

However, Bush and Gore are getting to the place they expected to be in much different shape than anyone predicted.

By their own admission, both have become much better campaigners as a result of the unexpectedly stiff primary competition. They have also shown themselves adept at negative campaigning, which has proved, once again, to be most effective.

Bush, making his first run for national office, began his campaign by denouncing "smashmouth" politics and promising a positive effort. But when McCain blew him away in New Hampshire, Bush and his tight-knit group of advisers dropped their aversion to going negative and unleashed an attack on McCain that has run nonstop ever since.

"In their own minds, the Bush campaign wasn't running negative ads. They were counterpunching. And they did it very well," says David Hill, a Republican strategist in Texas who has worked with top members of the Bush team in prior campaigns.

One of Bush's challenges, if he manages to defeat McCain, will be finding a way to appeal to his rival's supporters, who helped push turnouts to historic highs in the early primaries. But the Texan will not have the resources he was counting on to promote his candidacy between the end of the primary season and the conventions this summer.

Bush stockpiled a record campaign treasury of more than $70 million, which has been all but wiped out by his effort to fend off McCain.

In a surprising turnabout, Gore, whose heavy spending was an early sign of trouble in his campaign, now figures to come out of the primaries with more campaign cash on hand than Bush. "I don't think anybody expected that," says Chris Lehane, the Gore campaign's spokesman.

Demystifying Bush

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.