February 19, 1996 in Nation/World

Republican Rivals Struggling To Survive In New Hampshire Buchanan, Alexander Defend Pasts; Gramm Endorses Dole

Sandra Sobieraj Associated Press

Republican rivals Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan and Lamar Alexander wrestled with their pasts Sunday as they tried to shore up prospects for winning - or just surviving - the New Hampshire presidential primary.

With two days to go before the pivotal contest, the race has grown increasingly volatile. For Dole, deadlocked with Buchanan for first place in weekend polling data, every vote is crucial.

Dole moved up a planned endorsement by former rival Phil Gramm even though polls showed the Texas senator had minimal support here when he quit the race last week.

Some surveys released this weekend included Alexander in a three-man tie for first, while others placed him solidly behind Dole and Buchanan. Publisher Steve Forbes has steadily sunk to a distant fourth.

Fighting for an outright win, Buchanan defended controversial statements on women and race from his earlier campaigns and editorial writings by saying Sunday “the statute of limitations has run out on those things.”

Dole, haunted by the 1988 loss here which knocked him out of that race, tried Sunday to lower the stakes in Tuesday’s balloting - though he earlier insisted it would determine the nominee.

“I probably should have said if Bob Dole wins New Hampshire, Bob Dole would be the nominee,” the Senate majority leader said on ABC. “If we don’t win New Hampshire, we’ll win North and South Dakota.”

By an evening rally in Exeter, Dole was considerably more upbeat: “I smell victory in the air. We will start ending the era of Bill Clinton on Tuesday night here.”

In his own appearance on the television news shows, Alexander was again dogged by questions about his lucrative financial dealings and his 1985 proposal to enact a state income tax - issues raised in new Dole ads.

“Senator Dole is running a negative, desperate campaign. His campaign must show me moving up very rapidly if that’s all he has to say about our future,” Alexander said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He denied any financial wrongdoing and pledged not to raise marginal income tax rates if elected president.

In a last-minute frenzy of activity, candidates swarmed morning news shows before navigating the slushy streets for more old-fashioned New Hampshire politicking. Their field organizations also kicked into high gear, deploying volunteers to church parking lots where they papered windshields with campaign literature.

In terms of raw exposure, Forbes outpaced rivals with several campaign stops sandwiched between two network appearances and a paid halfhour of live television broadcast on WMUR-TV where he fielded mostly sympathetic questions. He said he would “absolutely” take his fight for the nomination all the way to the GOP convention in August.

At an evening forum which drew only the bottom half of the eight-man pack, Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar pushed his national sales tax as a remedy to the “flat” economy. Without the kind of tax changes he wanted, Lugar said, “the American dream is effectively over.”

In endorsing Dole Sunday - instead of next week in South Carolina as planned - Gramm warned the success and image of the Republican Party rested on keeping the nomination from Buchanan.

Picking up that theme without naming Buchanan, Dole said “We have got to bring the economic and the social conservatives together. You can’t divide us and expect to win in November.”

Gramm gave Dole an even bigger lead in the endorsement game; he’s backed by 24 governors and 29 senators.

Rivals doubted any of it would translate into votes. “If endorsements were going to elect Bob Dole he’d already be king,” Alexander cracked.

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