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Is It Still A Horse Race?


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IS IT STILL A HORSE RACE?

BARELY. BUT IT WON'T BE IF BUSH AND CLINTON SWEEP MICHIGAN AND ILLINOIS

George Bush, late of Yale and Skull & Bones, gnawed on some barbecued ribs

in Hialeah, Fla., and entered a bass-fishing tournament in Pintlala, Ala. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton prayed and swayed in black Baptist churches in Tennessee and bemoaned the high crime rate with Houston cops. Then Clinton, who had been buffed to a high sheen at Yale Law School and Oxford University, stepped before a throng of Miami supporters and described himself as "an ol' redneck."

Aw, shucks, it worked. On Mar. 10, while their outspent, outgunned, and out-of-breath rivals struggled to keep up, Bush and Clinton blitzed the South's key Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses. Each scored a Southern and border-state sweepand paved the way for potentially crippling blows to their opponents in Mar. 17 contests in Illinois and Michigan.

Bush isn't about to snuff out Pat Buchanan's right-wing insurgency overnight, though. Buchanan vows he'll overtake the President in Michigan, a state with 9% unemployment and loads of alienated Reagan Democrats. But as his campaign nears mathematical elimination, Buchanan often verges on crankdom, with calls for Bush's resignation, demands for the ouster of Republican National Chairman Rich Bond, and threats to wage a jihad against Bush and moderate GOP Governor Pete Wilson in California on June 2. "Pat is ripping the Republican Party apart over what appears to be his personal ego," says former Buchanan strategist Anthony Fabrizio. "Just being the loudest, angriest, and meanest isn't going to help him lead the conservative movement in '96."

BEAR HUG. On the other hand, after a 51% to 34% loss to Clinton in Florida's Democratic primary, former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas could use some guerrilla-warfare lessons from Buchanan. He would have plenty of targets, what with Clinton's less-than-miraculous stewardship of Arkansas, his vulnerability on the personal-ethics front, and his fluid shift from moderate reformer to darling of Democratic ward heelers.

In Chicago, for instance, Clinton has been embraced by Mayor Richard M. Daley's organization--a bear hug Tsongas could profitably condemn as signaling Clinton's coziness with machine politics. "Clinton has gravitated toward the old coalition politics of the Democratic Party," says Dennis Kanin, Tsongas' campaign manager. "What does the guy stand for?"

But Tsongas has yet to mount an effective counterattack. "I see a lot of Dukakis in Tsongas," says Steven E. Schier, a Carleton College political scientist. "Democrats are worried about that, and they should be."

Tsongas' Super Tuesday odyssey is particularly instructive on that score. He meandered through the South like an economics professor on a lecture tour, while Clinton used Tsongas' opposition to a middle-class tax cut to paint him as a Reagan-Bush clone.

Now, Tsongas faces stark choices: He must erase his image as an exponent of root-canal economics and broaden his base to traditional Democrats or face political extinction. On paper, Tsongas has a potent plan for the Rust Belt. Unlike Clinton, who stresses investment in "human capital," Tsongas favors an industrial policy to rebuild U.S. manufacturing. But his blueprint is numbingly complex, and his support for a capital-gains tax cut and brush-off of the tax "fairness" issue beloved of congressional Democrats turns off many party activists. "When I listen to Tsongas with my eyes closed, I almost hear George Bush," says Joe Mangone, political director for the United Auto Workers.

`FROM THE GUT.' Unfortunately for Tsongas, activists will be key players not only in Michigan and Illinois but in other contests in such industrial states as New York on Apr. 7 and Pennsylvania on Apr. 28. A special handicap for Tsongas is his inability to connect with blacks. "Clinton understands the language of struggle," says former Black Panther Bobby Rush, an alderman from Chicago's South Side who's organizing for Clinton. "That's something you get from the gut up, not the head down."

In the Rust Belt, Clinton is angling to pick up the labor vote set adrift after the collapse of Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's campaign. Tsongas hopes, without much chance of success, to thwart Clinton's move by highlighting Arkansas' status as a right-to-work state, its low wages, and its dismal record on worker safety. "Clinton has a miserable labor record," Kanin asserts. "We need to get that out."

Buchanan, too, is beckoning to angry blue-collars. In Michigan, he's casting Bush as a country-club Republican who betrayed workers' trust on taxes and throws billions away on foreign aid. "Our 'America First' theme is a natural for Michigan," says Angela "Bay" Buchanan, top strategist in her brother's Presidential drive. "Pat gives a voice to people who are frustrated and angry."

People like Grant Robinson. A former General Motors Corp. worker idled by a plant shutdown, Robinson, 35, supports his family of five by working as a maintenance man--for $9 an hour less than he got at GM. "I'm going backward," he says, huddled with a group of Buchanan backers who cheered him during a visit to the working-class suburb of Wyandotte, Mich.

Buchanan might approach 40% in Michigan, but he might also peak. On the stump, the President is already taking shots at Congress and trumpeting his devotion to "family values," a dart aimed at Clinton.

Faced with a choice between a shopworn President and a battered Arkansas governor, Bush reckons that voters will stick with the Yalie they know. But Bush has consistently underestimated the resentment that's driving voters this year. Economic recovery remains iffy. And a third of Buchanan's supporters vow they'll vote against the President in November. That residual rage--plus Clinton's ability to shift seamlessly from good ol' boy to Ivy League policy wonk--means there's no cause for celebration at the White House, even as Bush's delegates pile up.Lee Walczak and Douglas Harbrecht in Washington, with David Greising in Chicago, David Woodruff in Detroit, Gail Degeorge in Miami, Richard S. Dunham in Dallas, and Bureau Reports


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