February 21, 1996 in Nation/World

Buchanan Upsets Gop Establishment Dole’s Loss, Alexander’s Gain

Lisa Anderson And Thomas Hardy Chicago Tribune
 

The New Hampshire primary was Bob Dole’s to lose, and he lost it.

A pugnacious Pat Buchanan deeply wounded Dole’s better-financed, better-organized and better-connected campaign Tuesday, setting the stage for a three-way fight for the Republican presidential nomination.

The fiery commentator and self-styled leader of a “peasant revolution” against Washington, once again stung the Republican establishment.

First he stuck a pitchfork into Dole’s once-impressive lead in Iowa, then drove it down to a second-place finish in the nation’s first primary while striking a populist nerve with the voters.

Winning an estimated 27 percent of the vote to Dole’s 26 percent, Buchanan’s showing was a significant setback for Dole and a substantial boost for former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. A record high voter turnout produced the closest GOP primary here since 1976, when President Gerald Ford eked out a one-point victory over Ronald Reagan.

Dole’s reversal of fortune dramatically benefited Alexander. Considered the younger, more moderate alternative to the 72-year-old Dole, the lanky former U.S. secretary of education and corporate lawyer has, somewhat disingenuously, portrayed himself as a Washington outsider. If Dole weakens and Buchanan is seen as too extreme, Alexander’s attraction could grow.

The Granite State never has been kind to Bob Dole and that didn’t change this third, and probably last, time around for the 35-year veteran of national politics. In 1980 and 1988, his hopes for a presidential bid died in the snows here. This time, he’s on thinner ice than he expected.

“Now I know why they call this the Granite State: because it’s so hard to crack,” said a rueful Dole to a hotel ballroom full of supporters.

“One thing I do know is it’s a two-man race from now on. It’s going to be a one-man race before long,” he said, pitting himself against Buchanan. “And we know that we are now engaged in a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. That’s what this race is going to be about.”

As has been the habit of this campaign, Dole directed a barb at Buchanan, whom he had portrayed for the past week as a Republican with extreme views.

“And in the next month,” Dole said, “we will decide if we’re the party of fear or of hope, if we are a party that keeps people out or brings them together. And if we are angry about the present or optimistic about the future. That’s going to be the debate for the next 30 days.”

Giving no quarter to the combative Buchanan, he said, “Everyone who knows Bob Dole knows that I’m a fighter, no doubt about it.” Dole added firmly, “You’re looking at the nominee of the Republican Party right now.”

In recent days, Alexander, 55, has moved swiftly to establish himself as the candidate of “new ideas,” versus Buchanan’s “wrong ideas,” and Dole’s “no ideas.” For a lackluster campaign that languished from voter and media neglect for months, Alexander’s third-place finishes in Iowa and here have marked him as the candidate on the move.

Alexander celebrated his third-place finish, telling supporters that he has gone “from relative obscurity” to being “one of the three people” who will leave New Hampshire to “battle for the soul of the party.” Like Dole, Alexander sought to portray the race as a two-man contest between himself and Buchanan.

Earlier, Dole said a loss in New Hampshire “isn’t the end of the world.” In fact, for all the brouhaha surrounding its first-in-the-nation status, New Hampshire has only 16 delegates to offer the winner. It is a tiny state of 1.3 million people, most of them white, many of them middle class, which some argue is not representative enough of the nation to be used as a bellwether.

Moreover, the Kansas senator leaves New Hampshire for the smoother, firmer ground of more hospitable states in upcoming primaries, such as the Dakotas and New York, where his well-financed campaign is well-organized. But he also travels to the South, a region which has been less than friendly to him in the past.

Buchanan’s win, in fact, flirted with the record lowest-winning percentage in a primary here, Jimmy Carter’s 29 percent victory in the 1976 Democratic primary.

But New Hampshire long has been fond of Pat Buchanan. He came in a strong second, at 37 percent, to former President George Bush in 1992. As he did then, Buchanan again won the endorsement of the Manchester Union-Leader, the state’s most powerful and conservative newspaper. At the time, publisher Nackey Loeb said she was sick of hearing that Buchanan was unelectable. She endorsed him as a “man who says what he means and means what he says.”

He returned the praise Tuesday night, calling the publisher his “political godmother.”

But electability is a big question mark even among some of Buchanan’s most ardent supporters. They know his strong stands against gays, abortion and illegal immigrants strike fear in more moderate quarters.

Buchanan, 57, drew heavily from members of the state’s conservative right, a so-called mega-group composed of such diverse elements as gun owners, anti-tax groups and the Christian right.

“We have made history again tonight, my friends, in New Hampshire,” said an exuberant Buchanan, declaring victory.

Referring to the withering ad campaign that apparently failed to dissuade Buchanan’s core supporters or discourage more moderate voters, he said: “Let them do their worst, we shall do our best. The people of New Hampshire have voted their hopes, not their fears, their aspirations and dreams, and they stood up to the negativism from inside the Beltway.”

Under leaden but mostly dry skies, voters turned out heavily for what was one of the closest and nastiest contests in the 44-year-history of New Hampshire’s primary.

The heavy voter turnout should have been more favorable to Dole than to Buchanan, whose supporters are die-hard devotees willing to battle blizzards to vote for him.

A strong showing here by late-deciding independent voters, who may register for and vote in a party primary here on Election Day, favored Alexander, as they did in the Iowa caucuses.

Hundreds of Alexander supporters, many of them sporting his trademark red-and-black plaid shirts, crammed into a cluster of hotel banquet rooms at Manchester’s Inn at Amoskeag Falls to celebrate Tuesday night.

Serenaded by a Dixieland jazz band, they already were calling the tight race a victory for a candidate who had lagged behind in the polls just weeks ago.

“We’ll savor this moment for a while because … this shows when people look closely, a lot of people are going to look to Lamar,” said William Bennett, former secretary of education and Alexander’s national campaign chairman. “Our challenge now is to explain to more people why they should.”

Bennett also sketched out how the Alexander camp will frame the contest from this point. He said the key theme would be optimism versus pessimism. With Dole, “it’s optimism without an agenda, without a set of ideas,” he said. “Pat Buchanan is way too pessimistic. It’s built on resentment and grievance. … Lamar is an optimist, but it’s an optimism grounded in reality.”

In the state’s Democratic primary, an essentially unopposed President Bill Clinton swept the state’s delegates.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY RESULTS How Republican candidates fared in the N.H. primary: Percent of precincts reporting: 99%

Candidate Votes Percent Lamar Alexander 46,922 23% Pat Buchanan 56,453 27% Bob Dole 54,091 26% Bob Dornan 511 0% Steve Forbes 25,319 12% Alan Keyes 5,591 3% Dick Lugar 10,753 5% Morry Taylor 2,954 1%

WHAT’S NEXT? Saturday Delaware primary Tuesday North Dakota, South Dakota and Arizona primaries Knight-Ridder Tribune

This sidebar appeared with the story: NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY RESULTS How Republican candidates fared in the N.H. primary: Percent of precincts reporting: 99%

Candidate Votes Percent Lamar Alexander 46,922 23% Pat Buchanan 56,453 27% Bob Dole 54,091 26% Bob Dornan 511 0% Steve Forbes 25,319 12% Alan Keyes 5,591 3% Dick Lugar 10,753 5% Morry Taylor 2,954 1%

WHAT’S NEXT? Saturday Delaware primary Tuesday North Dakota, South Dakota and Arizona primaries Knight-Ridder Tribune


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