WASHINGTON — President Bush appeared likely to emerge from Super Tuesday still undefeated and with eight more victories to his credit in his drive for renomination, but he seemed no closer to driving challenger Patrick J. Buchanan out of a race that has become a debilitating contest for the incumbent.
Early returns showed that, across the board, voters in the eight states holding Republican primaries Tuesday--six in the South and Southwest, two in New England--continued a pattern of protest voting set in earlier contests. Exit polls of voters confirmed the early trends.
The continuing good news for Bush was that Buchanan still has not found a formula for victory; his support, in fact, shows no sign of being on the rise.
The President and his advisers also had to be pleased that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke received sharply limited support and Bush, who led the delegate tally over Buchanan by 184 to 20 before Tuesday, seemed headed toward adding nearly all the 420 delegates at stake in the day's contests.
But the exit polls showed that once more, Bush stood to lose roughly a third of the vote, seemingly without much regard to whether Buchanan campaigned vigorously in a state or not. According to the exit polls, Buchanan votes came predominantly from people who said they see the country headed in the wrong direction, including on economic policy. And substantial numbers of these Republicans voiced doubts about voting for Bush in the fall.
Even before the Super Tuesday results began coming in, some leading Republicans, sensing the potential long-range divisiveness Buchanan's campaign could cause, began urging him to drop out for the good of the party.
"Pat's got to decide whether it is his primary interest to help defeat liberals (or) . . . whether it is his strategic intent to defeat the President, bring down the Republican Party and rebuild on the wreckage," Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told reporters at the White House on Tuesday morning.
But Buchanan made clear his defiance and laid plans for a renewed assault, once again featuring themes that could haunt Bush in the fall.
Buchanan aides said that after emphasizing "traditional value" themes in the South, the GOP challenger now plans to return to the themes of economic discontent that fueled his drive in the New Hampshire primary, where he first shocked Bush by running a surprisingly strong race against the President on Feb. 18.
Buchanan intends to focus that line of attack on recession-ravaged Michigan, where he plans to spend five of the next six days leading up to the primary there on March 17. Arriving in Detroit yesterday, Buchanan shot back at Gingrich, saying of his campaign: "You tell Newt it will be completed in August at the Houston convention after the California primary."
Buchanan campaign officials have prepared a television advertisement for Michigan that attacks senior Bush advisers for having worked as lobbyists for Japanese firms, a move they hope will hurt the President in a state where the automobile industry has been particularly hurt by overseas competition.
The ads are to begin airing this week--emphasizing an issue and appealing to a constituency that Democrats also hope to reach in the general election.
But Bush could take consolation in one fact: So far, Buchanan has yet to find a place he can win.
Here is a look at Super Tuesday's Republican primaries:
MISSISSIPPI-- At one point, Buchanan and his aides thought Mississippi, with 32 delegates, could be the state in which they would break through. Instead, it provided a clear illustration of Buchanan's weaknesses, with Bush prevailing handily.
Exit polls and scattered early returns indicated the state might give Bush as much as three-quarters of its vote, with Buchanan and Duke splitting the rest.
Buchanan's attempt to appeal to the state's overwhelmingly conservative Republicans ran straight into the Bush campaign's ability to highlight Buchanan's negatives with tough campaign advertising, and by Tuesday night, top Buchanan aides were second-guessing their judgment.
"The toughest thing in the South turned out to be loyalty to a sitting President," Buchanan political director Paul Erickson said in an interview. In addition, Erickson said, Buchanan suffered in Mississippi from votes lost to Duke.
Bush visited the state over the weekend, and his campaign poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into television spots attacking Buchanan, nearly all in Mississippi and neighboring Louisiana.
The advertising concentrated on Buchanan's opposition to the Persian Gulf War and past statements by President's challenger that appeared to question whether women were capable of competing in the job market.
LOUISIANA--Buchanan had the support of state party Chairman William Nungesser, the only GOP state chairman to endorse the challenger. But Bush appeared headed to an easy victory nonetheless, which would give him the lion's share of the state's 38 delegates.