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Brown Captures Connecticut Race in Stunning Upset : Politics: Defeat of front-runner Clinton creates new uncertainty in the Democratic presidential contest. Bush again beats Buchanan, but protest vote lingers.

March 25, 1992|ROBERT SHOGAN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

WASHINGTON — Former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. scored a stunning upset over Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in the Connecticut primary Tuesday, engulfing the Democratic presidential race in a new wave of uncertainty and giving Brown a vital boost two weeks before critical primaries in New York and Wisconsin.

Brown's narrow victory comes just days after Clinton was proclaimed the presumptive Democratic nominee by many of his party's national leaders. In their eyes, the decision last Thursday by former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts to suspend his candidacy removed the last major hurdle Clinton faced to claiming the nomination.

Connecticut Democrats, though, clearly were not ready to accept that view. And in a sign of apparent dissatisfaction with both of the remaining active candidates, Tsongas ran a surprisingly strong third in the primary.

With 100% of the vote counted, Brown had 37%, Clinton had 36% and Tsongas had 20%.

In the Republican primary, President Bush again easily defeated challenger Patrick J. Buchanan. With 99% of the GOP vote counted, Bush had 67% and Buchanan had 22%. An uncommitted slate of delegates had 9% and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke had 2%.

Bush has won all of the Republican contests, but the fact that a third of the Connecticut Republicans did not vote for him--a repeat of results in several other states--indicates that he has not quelled the discontent that fueled Buchanan's candidacy.

In the Democratic race, the outcome represents a serious setback to Clinton's hopes of bringing the nomination contest to an early halt, uniting his party and focusing his fire on Bush.

A jubilant Brown, who already has shocked pundits who gave his anti-Establishment campaign little chance, Tuesday night described the Connecticut results as an example of "the people taking politics back in their hands."

He added: "I don't see it as a victory for me or a defeat for Clinton. I see it as a rising-up of the people of this country."

Still, Clinton remains the favorite to win the nomination, based on his past performances and the party's process for accumulating convention delegates. Before the decision in Connecticut--where 53 delegates were at stake--the Arkansas governor had an estimated 965 delegates committed to him, nearly half of the 2,145 needed for nomination. Brown had only 125, while Tsongas had 429.

And even if Brown wins most of the remaining contests, the party's proportional representation rules will make it difficult for him to overtake his rival as long as Clinton wins a respectable share of the vote.

The party's rules, in fact, saw Clinton actually win one more delegate than Brown in Connecticut--22 to 21. Tsongas won 10.

Clinton, speaking to supporters at a restaurant in Manhattan, signaled that he planned an aggressive campaign against Brown in New York.

"I think the clear message (of the Connecticut vote) is, we are going to have to fight for this. I always we knew we were going to have to fight for this," he said.

Saying he was prepared to contrast his plan for the nation's economic revival against Brown's, he added: "Now the debate is what kind of change we want, which is exactly the debate I want."

In a possible preview of the New York campaign, Clinton and Brown squared off Tuesday night on ABC-TV's "Nightline" program. They agreed on one point--that voter resentment with politics and government-as-usual had been a major force in shaping the Connecticut outcome. But each claimed that he was the best suited to respond to this discontent.

Clinton chided Brown for his past opposition to putting limits on campaign contributions. He also claimed that he was the first of the candidates to criticize the leadership of the national Democratic Party.

But Brown refused to yield his assumed role as the chief agent of reform. He challenged Clinton to agree not to run any paid broadcast commercials in the New York contest and to accept the same $100 ceiling on contributions that Brown has imposed on his own campaign.

"You join me in that, and we will have a reformed Democratic Party that goes to the grass roots," Brown said.

Exit polling of Connecticut Democrats, conducted for the major networks, indicated that the character question that has plagued Clinton's candidacy was particularly troublesome to him in the state.

Asked if they believed Clinton had the honesty and integrity to be President, 49% of those interviewed said yes, while nearly as many--46%--said no. A majority of the latter group voted for Brown.

The exit polls also showed a slippage in Clinton's support from black voters, which had been vital to his previous victories. In last week's Illinois and Michigan primaries, for instance, he won more than 70% of the black vote. In Connecticut, that figure dipped to 58%, according to the polls.

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