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Bush-Dole Feud Could Split GOP : 4-Man Contest Looms in South for Democrats

February 18, 1988|ROBERT SHOGAN | Times Political Writer

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The New Hampshire primary has transformed the March 8 Super Tuesday Southern primaries, the next major milestone in the 1988 Democratic presidential race, into a four-man contest.

Pitted against one another as main protagonists are Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the New Hampshire winner, who will be appealing mainly to Southern liberals; the Rev. Jesse Jackson, with a base of black voters making up more than 20% of the Democratic v1869899067and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, both of whom will be vying for support among Southern moderates and conservatives.

Left somewhat in the lurch are the other three major Democratic candidates, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart.

Simon to Press On

Simon, after finishing second in the Iowa caucuses and third in New Hampshire, vowed to press on, but said he would quit if he didn't win either the Minnesota caucuses or the South Dakota primary next Tuesday.

Babbitt, clearly discouraged by his sixth-place finish, scheduled a news conference for today. He told the Associated Press: "I think it is very likely that I will make the decision to exit." And Hart, who finished last in New Hampshire, is not expected to be a serious factor in the Southern primaries.

The four major Southern contenders emerged from New Hampshire with reshaped prospects, according to interviews with strategists for rival campaigns and independent analysts:

--Dukakis "won the gold," as he himself put it, coming in first by a big margin, but he may well have lost an opportunity by not using the friendly New England terrain to make his message any more explicit or bold than it has been in the past.

He attempted to position himself better for the Southern contests Wednesday by talking tough on military issues, declaring he would use force to stop a foreign aggressor in this hemisphere. But some analysts believe he is still vulnerable to being pressed for explanations on such issues as foreign policy and deficit reduction.

--The clearest gainers were Gephardt, who by finishing second assured himself of being a major rival to Gore on Super Tuesday, and Jackson, whose ability to get white voters here made him potentially even more formidable in that contest.

--Coming out on the short end of the stick was Gore, who by finishing fifth, behind Jackson, made it harder for him to avoid being stigmatized as a regional candidate.

Dukakis' Victory

So far as Dukakis is concerned, no one quarreled with the claim put forth by his supporters that his 17-point margin of victory over Gephardt was impressive. But some analysts contended that Dukakis' 37% share of the vote was underwhelming, considering his long service in the Massachusetts State-house across the border.

"No one wants to say it, but Dukakis flopped," contended Richard Scammon, veteran electoral specialist. "He should have gotten 50% of the vote."

Dukakis' advisers scoffed at such criticisms, and contend that the victory shows their candidate is communicating. "There's too much talk about there being no message," complained Irwin (Tubby) Harrison, Dukakis' pollster. "What the media want is something to put on a bumper strip--a three-word slogan. You're not going to get that soon."

Harrison asserted that even without such a "simplistic" message, Dukakis will get "some lift down South." He added that if Dukakis can gain victories in some of what politicians refer to as "the Lesser Antilles," the small state contests between New Hampshire and Super Tuesday, the governor will pick up "substantial momentum." Dukakis is considered to have a strong chance to win the Minnesota caucuses, as well as in Maine and Vermont the following week.

A Struggle for Second

One reason Dukakis may not be getting as much glory as his staff would like from his New Hampshire triumph is the prevailing notion which Dukakis aides fostered, that the contest here was mainly a struggle for second place between Gephardt and Simon.

Gephardt, having won that duel, now stands to benefit. Terence McAuliffe, Gephardt's finance chairman, predicted that the campaign could now raise $2.5 million before Super Tuesday, about half of which he estimated would be eligibile for federal matching funds. McAuliffe said the campaign would spend $2.5 to $3 million in the Super Tuesday states, most of it on television advertising.

"My guess is that Gephardt will be running ahead of Dukakis in the next polls," said Claibourne Darden of Darden Research Corp., a Southern polling firm. Dukakis' victory in New Hampshire will have little impact on Dixie, Darden said, "no more than if Albert Gore won the Tennessee primary."

Meanwhile Gephardt's aides were hoping to win at least one more contest before the March 8 showdown in the South. William Carrick, Gephardt's campaign manager, said the best prospects are in the South Dakota primary next Tuesday and in the Wyoming caucus, March 5.

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