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Bush, Dukakis Victors in N.H. : Vice President Defeats Dole in Crucial Test

February 17, 1988|JACK NELSON | Times Washington Bureau Chief

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Vice President George Bush, bouncing back from his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, put his presidential campaign back on track Tuesday with a convincing victory over Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and three other candidates in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.

With 100% of the state's precincts reporting, Bush had polled 38% to the senator's 29%. New York Rep. Jack Kemp clung to third place with 13%, followed by former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV with 10% and former religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, who finished second in Iowa, with 9%.

Could Have Been Crippled

The victory here was considered crucial for the vice president, whose campaign could have been crippled by a second consecutive defeat. A loss here, many analysts agreed, would have eroded his strength in his Southern base and raised questions about whether he could survive Super Tuesday, March 8, when 20 states, including 14 in the South, hold primaries or caucuses.

The outcome, which left Dole bitter and charging that Bush had lied about Dole's record, virtually guarantees a long, hard-fought battle through the summer for the Republican presidential nomination. It remains a two-man race, with Kemp, Robertson and Du Pont battling among themselves to become the conservative alternative if Bush or Dole were to fade.

Dole, who had defeated Bush 2 to 1 in Iowa, had expressed confidence that he would win the primary even as voters were going to the polls Tuesday. But with exit polls showing Bush a winner, the senator conceded defeat almost an hour before all polls had closed.

But he vowed to "move on to the next state" and declared: "We can't win them all. But we will be the Republican nominee when it is all over."

Bush aides attributed his victory partly to his change in campaign style, which saw him go from "staying above the fray" in Iowa to attacking Dole in New Hampshire for his position on taxes and an oil import fee.

Blames Bush Ads

Dole, who did not disagree with that analysis, blamed his loss on Bush television and radio ads that suggested that Dole would raise taxes and favored the oil import fee. "I think that we should have answered those charges," he said. "I think you can be too kind to your opponent, and we were."

He said he did not attack Bush because he wanted to keep his campaign "positive," but he declared: "I'm going to straighten out my record. It's not going to take long."

Dole's strong comments, which were televised in Manchester, brought smiles from several Bush campaign aides, who suggested that the vice president had gotten under the senator's skin and managed to bring out what they called "the old Dole," who in years past had been known as a vituperative campaigner.

Still Steaming

Later, several hours after the polls had closed, Dole was still steaming about what he charged were deliberate distortions of his record. "You can stop lying about my record," Dole declared when NBC anchor Tom Brokaw asked if he had anything to say to the vice president. The senator, who was watching the telecast on a monitor at his headquarters here while Bush was at the NBC studio in Manchester, scowled and stared directly at the vice president as he spoke.

Rich Bond, one of the Bush aides, said the campaign will get rougher from here on out. He said the March 5 primary in South Carolina, where Bush and Dole will be confronting a heavily organized Robertson campaign, will be "all-out war." Iowa and New Hampshire, Bond said, will be "bean bags" by comparison.

Bond attributed Bush's victory to his change in campaign style and "delineation of his views with those of Dole."

Superior Organization

Other analysts said Bush's superior campaign organization, headed by Gov. John H. Sununu, also was a principal factor.

The New Hampshire primary had been widely considered a last stand for both Kemp and Du Pont, with each needing to make a significant showing to be considered a conservative alternative to the two front-runners.

Even though neither made strong showings, Kemp vowed to remain in the race and declared that his third-place finish meant he had become the conservative alternative to Bush and Dole, both of whom he said represent the "Establishment" or "liberal-conservative" wing of the GOP.

Du Pont, who had banked most of his campaign on Iowa and New Hampshire and had said he needed a strong finish here to remain in the race, still had made no decision on his future plans late Tuesday night.

Robertson to Continue

But Robertson left no doubt that he will continue campaigning despite his disappointing last-place finish. The test for him after his surprising second-place finish in Iowa was whether he could expand on his Christian evangelical base, and he did not. Moreover, exit polls showed that among all the candidates, he drew his strongest support among the most extreme conservatives.

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