Gore wins in shutout

Bush wrests control

Bradley comeback never begins

McCain strong in New England

Independents divided

Biggest states give huge boosts to front-runners

March 08, 2000|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush effectively locked up their parties' presidential nominations last night with sweeping Super Tuesday victories from California to New York to Maryland.

Bush, the eldest son of the Republican Party's 1988 and 1992 nominee, put his brand on the 2000 ticket by crushing Arizona Sen. John McCain in six of the seven largest states -- California, New York, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia and Maryland.

McCain was not prepared to concede the nomination battle last night. But Bush was already looking ahead to the fall campaign, blasting Gore as "the candidate of the status quo in Washington, D.C." and saying that "America must not give Clinton-Gore four more years."

The vice president, in his victory speech, made a direct appeal to McCain's supporters, even as he praised Bill Bradley, his Democratic rival, who has yet to win a state this year.

Gore administered severe punishment yesterday to the former New Jersey senator, sweeping at least 15 states where Democratic delegates were at stake. Hours before the polls closed in California, the largest test of all, Bradley called Gore to congratulate him on his victories.

Bush also offered words of conciliation to his rivals in the Republican race, McCain and Alan L. Keyes, who finished a distant third in all of yesterday's primaries.

Addressing a raucous crowd of supporters in Austin, Texas, Bush congratulated his opponents for a "spirited contest" and predicted that the party would soon "unite and turn to the main task at hand: ending the era of Clinton-Gore."

Bush declared his intention to make the administration's personal and political scandals a central issue in the general election contest.

"I will remind Al Gore that Americans do not want a White House where this is `no controlling legal authority.' I will repair the broken bonds of trust between Americans and their government," Bush said.

"Eight years is long enough," he added, to rhythmic chants of "No More Gore."

McCain won four of 13 GOP tests, all in New England, where Bush prevented a regional sweep by taking Maine, his family's summer home for decades. Bush lost Connecticut, his native state.

In California, Gore was leading Bush in a close race for first place in the nonbinding popular vote, based on incomplete results. McCain, who had clung to the possibility of defeating Bush in the state's unique blanket-primary contest with the help of Democrats and independents, was running third.

The Arizona senator, whose candidacy has been sinking since his upset victory in Michigan two weeks ago, fell far behind in the race for national convention delegates. Bush could come close to mathematically clinching the nomination with a sweep of six Southern primaries next week.

McCain said he would take a "few days" to confer with advisers in Arizona "and take stock of our losses." But there were strong indications that he would formally announce his withdrawal from the race as early as tomorrow.

"Our crusade continues tonight, tomorrow, the next day, the day after that and for as long as it takes to restore America's confidence and pride in the practice and institutions of our great democracy," said McCain, who appeared almost jovial in a brief appearance last night before supporters in West Hollywood, Calif.

"We will never give up this mission, my friends. I give you my word on that, for that's the real purpose of public service, and we must never lose sight of it."

Election day interviews with thousands of voters around the country showed that support for Bush from Republicans, which made the difference in most of this year's GOP primaries, was decisive again yesterday.

Bush swamped McCain by a better than 2-to-1 margin (64 percent to 30 percent) nationwide, the exit polls showed. In Maryland, where independents cast about one-eighth of the GOP primary vote, Bush defeated McCain among Republicans by 35 percentage points.

Except for Connecticut, New Hampshire and Arizona, his home state, McCain has lost the Republican vote in every primary this season. His failure to attract more Republican votes has been a hurdle his campaign has been unable to surmount.

After a month of primary scuffles with McCain, in which Bush moved farther to the right than he had hoped to at the outset, the Texas governor began to move back toward the center.

In his election night speech, he returned to his message of "compassionate conservatism," designed to appeal to the independents, suburban women, Hispanics and other swing-voter groups who hold the key to the November election.

Meantime, his likely rival in November, Gore, wasted no time in reaching out to McCain voters, directly addressing them at one point in his victory speech.

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