Months of arduous and aggressive political struggle ended Tuesday when Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination with primary victories in California and five other states.
In California, Clinton rushed to an early lead over his last lingering competitor for the nomination, former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., and he held on to it as ballots were counted throughout the night. With 85% of the vote counted, Clinton led Brown 47.7% to 40%. Former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, who suspended his campaign two months ago, had 7.4%.
Besides California, Clinton racked up victories over Brown in New Jersey, Ohio, Montana, Alabama and New Mexico, grabbing hundreds more than the 86 delegates he had needed to ensure a first-ballot nomination at July's Democratic National Convention in New York.
Among Republicans, President Bush kept alive his unbroken string of primary victories by defeating conservative challenger Patrick J. Buchanan in all six states. The results were anticlimactic, since the President had secured the GOP nomination six weeks ago, long after Buchanan had conceded his ultimate defeat. With 83.9% of the GOP vote tallied in California, Bush was ahead 73.7% to 26.3%.
Despite their sweeping victories, Clinton and Bush were once again overshadowed by strong support for probable independent candidate Ross Perot, as indicated in exit polls of voters in the primary states.
Perot was not on the ballot in any of the six states. In California, Secretary of State March Fong Eu said any write-in ballots cast for Perot would not be counted, since the maverick Texas businessman had not qualified as a legitimate write-in candidate.
Unofficially, exit polls determined that about 10% of Californians actually wrote in Perot's name, with a slightly higher percentage of Republicans doing so.
But a stronger measure of the interest his potential candidacy has sparked came when California voters were asked what they would have done had Perot been on the ballot: The Los Angeles Times exit poll determined that Perot would have won both primaries.
His strength held up elsewhere--more than one in three voters in Tuesday's other primaries would have voted for Perot had he been on the ballot, exit polls taken for the four major television networks concluded.
All told, the states voting Tuesday allotted 700 Democratic delegates, almost one-third of the 2,145 needed for nomination, and Clinton was poised to collect at least 458 of them. In California alone, Clinton was in line to win 197 of the 348 delegates.
His victories outside California were convincing. In New Jersey and Ohio, two traditional general election battlegrounds, Clinton won 59% and 61% of the vote, respectively. In Alabama, the state closest to his native Arkansas, he won 68% of the vote.
In the West, Clinton was doing less well--he received 47% in Montana, where 24% of the voters declared themselves uncommitted, and 53% in New Mexico. Brown's tallies ranged from 7% in Alabama to 19% in Ohio.
On the Republican side, Bush was replicating the easy victories that have come his way since Buchanan's challenge lost its steam. He won 83% of the vote in Ohio and New Jersey, and 75% in Alabama. In Montana, the President was the pick of 72% of the voters. He won 64% in New Mexico, where the day's largest anti-Bush protest materialized when 27% voted for uncommitted.
With the close of the last major primary day, Clinton, once a national unknown, proved to have bested a field that at one time included two current U.S. senators, one former senator and a former governor of the nation's largest state.
Buoyant, his voice cracking into hoarseness at times, Clinton accepted the nomination with relief and the promise that he would carry the standard for the less fortunate.
"For too long, Washington has rigged our system for the benefit of the few, the quick buck, the gimmick and the short run," he declared to the cheers of hundreds gathered at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. "We have tried it that way and now we have to change.
"I am tired of seeing the people who work hard and play by the rules get the shaft. And tonight, with this delegate count, we want to put the forces of the status quo and short-term greed on notice--the party's over. We're in for a change. We want our country back."
The man to whom Clinton in part directed his remarks--President Bush--also tried to make the case that he is the best candidate for change.
"As November approaches, I believe there will be two questions foremost in the minds of American voters," the President said in a statement released by the White House. "Who has the best ideas for America? Who do you trust to lead this country?
"This November," he said, in a gibe at his perennial foes in Congress, "we can break the Washington lawmaking gridlock and set a new course for the next American century."