Bob Dole’s presidential rivals battled a sense of inevitability Monday about his quest for the Republican nomination, even as Dole played down expectations, insisting the race was far from over.
Pat Buchanan, for whom Georgia’s Tuesday primary is shaping up as a do-or-die test, took the sharpest aim at Dole, branding him a liberal in a new radio ad airing in the state.
Buchanan called Georgia, one of 10 states parceling out 259 delegates on Tuesday, “pivotal” to his nomination prospects. He cancelled some planned appearances in New York and extended his Georgia stay, hoping to improve on his distant second-place finish to Dole in South Carolina on Saturday.
“We’re hoping for a stronger showing here and, frankly, we need it if we’re going to win the nomination,” Buchanan said during a rapid-fire round of morning radio interviews.
Lamar Alexander, who has yet to place better than third, said he’s “going straight ahead” through Tuesday’s voting and on to next week’s Super Tuesday primaries.
“I think the jury’s still out about whether Bob Dole is what the Republican Party wants,” Alexander said while campaigning in Atlanta.
Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who was campaigning with Dole, called Gingrich’s move proof “Republicans are beginning to say to themselves, Dole is inevitable.”
During a visit to a recycling plant, Dole offered himself as the candidate who can “bring people together. And, perhaps with his GOP rivals in mind, Dole asserted, “We’re going to recycle everything we can find in the next few days.”
The competition wasn’t ready to give in.
Buchanan said the rally-round-Dole effort wasn’t surprising because Dole “needs all the help he can get to be launched over the finish line.” Buchanan called Gingrich’s effort on Dole’s behalf, “very tepid.”
Publisher Steve Forbes chimed in, saying it was not up to Gingrich to decide who stays in the race.
“The voters make that decision, not political leaders,” said Forbes, who was campaigning in New England.