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Politics 88 : Bush Abandons S. Dakota to Dole

February 21, 1988|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — As another valuable day went whizzing off the primary elections calendar, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was put off balance Saturday by an unusual occurrence: A victory was conceded to him before he expected it.

Dole came here to his Midwest base of support to finish a fight he figured he was winning--to beat Vice President George Bush in South Dakota's presidential primary, the second of this election year, on Tuesday.

But he arrived for a day of campaigning in the snow-swept state only to learn that Bush had, in effect, pulled out.

Seen as Vital Step

South Dakota had figured to be an important step for Dole as he tried to recover from his loss to Bush in New Hampshire and move on to the delegate sweepstakes of Super Tuesday, March 8, when 16 states will have primaries.

But Bush may have taken some of the punch out of a Dole victory here by granting it to him early.

sh Dole's Response

"That's a decision they made. My decision is to campaign here today and do what I can to underscore our interest in South Dakota," Dole said Saturday. "If somebody else wants to abandon South Dakota, that's up to them."

He then sought to portray Bush as a candidate who is weak in one of the nation's Republican strongholds--the heartland.

"You know, this is part of America," he said. "If you're going to be a national candidate you ought to be running in every state."

According to accounts in South Dakota, Bush abruptly canceled his remaining television advertising time--about $40,000 worth, a substantial amount for a sparsely populated region. The vice president's campaign staff also disclosed that Bush would not be returning to the state before the voting Tuesday.

"This would not be the best use of our campaign resources," a Bush campaign official said.

Post-Iowa Decision

The vice president's strategists indicated that the decision was made after an analysis of the results in Iowa, where Dole's neighboring-state "I'm-one-of-you" campaign proved invincible. Dole swept all 99 Iowa counties in the Feb. 8 caucuses.

Until now, however, Bush had been trying to put up a fight for South Dakota's 18 Republican delegates. Last December, it was the first state in which Bush television advertisements were aired. The vice president wanted to do just what he now acknowledges that he cannot do--beat Dole in the farm regions of the Midwest.

"They cannot sell their candidate in the Midwest," a Dole senior adviser, David Keene, said. "They are writing off the heartland of the country and the heartland of the party."

Decision to Haunt Bush?

Keene said the decision would haunt Bush through other Midwestern primaries, including Illinois, where, on March 15, there will be five times as many delegates at stake as in South Dakota. The vice president already has decided against campaigning actively in Minnesota, where presidential-preference caucuses take place Tuesday.

Dole is actively going for Minnesota's delegates and is also slated to campaign in Wyoming for the 18 delegates to be selected in GOP caucuses March 5.

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