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Buchanan Leads Dole in Tight Race; Alexander a Close Third

GOP: The New Hampshire results may prolong the battle for the Republican nomination. California's March 26 primary could become the deciding contest.

February 21, 1996|ROBERT SHOGAN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Republican presidential contenders Patrick J. Buchanan and Bob Dole were locked in a close race and Lamar Alexander was running close behind Tuesday night as the three battled for votes and momentum in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

With 81% of the vote counted at press time, Buchanan had 27%, Dole 26% and Alexander 23%.

The close results seem certain to prolong the GOP nomination battle, perhaps making California's March 26 primary the deciding contest.

About 30 minutes after the polls closed here at 5 p.m. PST, the four major television networks declared Buchanan the winner, based on their analysis of polling of voters after they cast their ballots.

Exit polling of voters by The Times showed the race between Buchanan and Dole too close to call. These results also showed Alexander close behind.

Running a distant fourth with 12% was publishing magnate Steve Forbes, who also finished behind the top three contenders in last week's Iowa caucuses. Earlier in his campaign, Forbes had set at least a third-place finish as his goal for New Hampshire.

Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove, Calif., former State Department official Alan Keyes, Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar and businessman Morry Taylor rounded out the GOP field. With 81% of the vote counted, they had 0%, 3%, 6% and 1%, respectively.

Buchanan, a former television commentator, gained a boost in the week before the New Hampshire vote when he ran a strong second behind Dole in the Iowa caucuses. Stressing his message of cultural conservatism and economic populism, he called upon voters in the New Hampshire GOP primary to join him in remaking the Republican Party.

In a speech to his supporters even as the vote was being counted, Buchanan expressed his gratitude to voters "who resisted negative campaigning and nasty attack ads and smears and all that nonsense," adding that his brand of conservatism was the one that "does not apologize" for its beliefs.

"We're going to give voice to the voiceless," he said. And denouncing international trade agreements and the United Nations, he declared that "we're going to recapture the lost sovereignty of our country, we're going to bring it home."

Dole, meanwhile, had counted heavily on support from New Hampshire's GOP establishment, led by popular Gov. Steve Merrill, to propel him to victory.

Alexander, the former governor of Tennessee, was offering himself as an alternative to those who disagree with Buchanan on the issues and do not believe Dole can effectively battle President Clinton in the fall.

Appearing on CNN Tuesday night as the votes were being counted, Alexander termed Dole "a loser," arguing that Dole had no new ideas and would be incapable of beating Clinton.

Among those interviewed by The Times after they cast their ballots, Buchanan voters cited his strong convictions. Dole backers said leadership and experience were the principal reasons for their choice. Alexander voters mentioned experience and new ideas.

Alexander, who seemed to be running stronger than preelection polls indicated, was getting about one-third of those who decided on their choices over the last weekend, more than any of the other candidates.

With the exception of Forbes, who only entered the race last September, all of the contenders had campaigned in this strategic state for the better part of the year. But the vote in Iowa--in which Dole narrowly defeated Buchanan and Alexander ran a strong third--and the bitter skirmishing that followed had far more impact than anything that had happened previously.

Negativism, through attack television ads and phone calls, were the order of the day.

"Everybody complains about the negative stuff," Dornan remarked to a reporter in the closing days of the contest. "But there's one reason why we all use it--it works."

Although negative campaigning often holds down turnout, early indications Tuesday were that turnout was unusually heavy. In fact, voters leaving their polling places at Webster School in Manchester said the attack ads, along with the closeness of the presidential race, had made them more determined to cast their ballots.

Banker Rebecca Tetrault, 32, said this primary filled her with the rare sense that her vote could really count. "I think in this particular election, every vote is important because it's going to be close," Tetrault said.

With pre-primary polls showing the contest between Dole and Buchanan a dead heat, Tetrault said she decided to vote "against" Buchanan and cast her ballot for Dole, even though she preferred Forbes.

Turned off by the negative campaigning, 49-year-old teacher Elise Hood decided to vote for a candidate the media paid little attention to: Lugar.

"Everyone else was going after each other," said Hood, a Democrat-turned-independent. (New Hampshire rules allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primaries.)

It was the Dole campaign, with its extensive financial and organizational resources, that led the attacks during the last week.

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