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Forbes Forges Ahead to Duel in N.Y.

Politics: He plans to flood the state's airwaves with ads before a head-to-head primary fight with Dole, who is backed by GOP leaders there.

February 29, 1996|LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Riding the crest of his Arizona victory, an enthusiastic Steve Forbes shifted gears Wednesday, placing all of his bets on New York and a head-to-head fight with Sen. Bob Dole.

As part of his strategy, Forbes is preparing to saturate the Big Apple with expensive media buys, including the half-hour call-in radio and television features that seemed to have attracted voters earlier this week in Arizona.

"Sen. Dole has the state Republican Party behind him" in New York, Forbes said in an interview, referring to party leaders such as Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato and Gov. George Pataki, who are backing Dole. "They will do anything and everything they can to pull this out because they see this as not just a presidential race, but also a way of preserving their own power in the state.

"They are going to throw everything our way, but we are going to hammer home our message and let them worry about the process," he added. "We think the voters of New York will recognize our campaign as a way of reforming the Soviet style of New York Republican politics."

Forbes has refused to say exactly how much he will spend in New York but has made clear the effort will be major. Television stations across the state reported Wednesday that they had been contacted by Forbes' aides about possible advertising buys but that no commitments had yet been made. Forbes aides spent much of the day huddling to discuss specific strategies.

Meanwhile, the candidate, basking in his first serious victory, made an early morning tour of major media outlets in New York, getting all the free attention that his wins in Delaware and Arizona could afford. Striding from one interview to another, Forbes sought to increase the momentum of a campaign that he vows is going to continue "right to the end."

"We think this contest is going to be a marathon and it's very important now to set up networks of volunteers in the large states," he said. The large states "will determine who wins the nomination far more than in the past because of their large blocs of delegates."

Speaking to reporters, he also dismissed complaints from Dole and his supporters that he was trying to "buy the election." The multimillionaire magazine publisher, who spent $4 million in the Arizona contest and has so far spent at least $25 million nationwide, insisted that it is not his spending that is driving the campaign.

"The amount of money spent is not the key; the key is the message," he said. "I've still spent less than Sen. Dole.

"And unlike Sen. Dole," he added, "I'm not taking a penny of taxpayers' money to subsidize my efforts."

Dole, along with the GOP candidates other than Forbes, is receiving federal matching funds for his campaign. The funds, which match individual contributions up to $250, come from a fund drawn from the $1 checkoff on federal income tax returns.

In addition to New York, which votes one week from today, Forbes is also planning a serious effort in Colorado, which votes Tuesday, and which is heavy with the sort of secular, antiestablishment voters who fueled his early rise in New Hampshire and helped him to his victory in Arizona. He plans to spend at least a full day campaigning in Colorado on Friday.

"Colorado has a good base of voters that respond to Steve's message," said Forbes' campaign manager, William Dal Col. After Colorado, Forbes plans to campaign in Connecticut, which also votes on Tuesday.

By contrast, Forbes so far is planning only limited campaigning in South Carolina, where the rest of the GOP field is concentrating its efforts--pointing toward Saturday's primary. Forbes plans to attend a candidate debate in the state today but has not planned extensive campaigning there.

The South poses particular problems for Forbes because of the heavy concentration of religious conservatives and antiabortion voters among the Republican primary electorate in the Southern states. Although Forbes insists that he does not favor abortion rights, activists on that issue mistrust him and his opponents have promised to continue to emphasize those differences.

Asked about the South, Forbes tacitly conceded that South Carolina would not be a strong state for him but insisted that other states are more promising. "I think we will do well. I think we will win in parts of Georgia and Florida," he said. Georgia votes along with Colorado on Tuesday, while Florida's primary is on March 12.

Forbes also said he is recruiting volunteers in other delegate-rich large states, including California, Michigan, Illinois, Texas and Pennsylvania, where he attended a campaign fund-raiser in Pittsburgh Wednesday night.

But while insisting he would win in the end, he declined to predict which of his rivals would be his ultimate opponents. "The situation is too fluid to be decided at this time," he said.

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