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Campaign '96 / BEHIND THE SCENES : Candidate's Sister Twins Political, Personal Roles : Angela 'Bay' Buchanan juggles duties as her brother's campaign chief and confidante, a single mother and family spin doctor.

The Players: A periodic look at the behind-the-scenes aides, consultants, media members and others shaping the course of the 1996 presidential campaign.

March 01, 1996|MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There she is, the jubilant sister-strategist, displaying the Buchanan family trademark on election night in New Hampshire--a rub-your-losing-nose-in-my-victory attitude, with a capital A.

"As my good friend Bob Dole said, 'The winner of New Hampshire will win the nomination,' " Angela "Bay" Buchanan tells the sweating, cheering crowd that's assembled, waiting to join her older brother, Patrick, in celebrating the first primary victory of his life.

She introduces various members of her storied clan. "Could you give them a New Hampshire welcome," she calls out. "This is the future first family."

The crowd goes wild. And if you squint your eyes just so, ignore the bright dress and zero in on the slight drawl, the sharp tongue, the chopping hand, you'd swear it was a prettier version of her brother up there on the stage as the band plays, the American cheese disappears and the Budweiser flows.

Truth be told, Bay and Pat are twin sides of the same conservative coin--candidate and confidante--out here on the hustings trying not only to claim the Republican presidential nomination, but change American politics. He's the one who's running for office, but she's helping him call the shots.

Fast, smart and loyal to the core, Bay Buchanan is one of a tiny group of advisors in the scrappiest team of Campaign '96. As manager of her brother's presidential bid, she is in constant touch with him on strategic matters while also attending to the nuts-and-bolts. She is credited with skillfully conserving scarce contributions in 1995 while other campaigns spent freely.

Her brother was the last candidate to air TV ads in New Hampshire, waiting until the first of the year to do so. But when the Buchanan camp pushed for strong showings in 1996's early contests, it had the money it needed.

As the single mother of three boys, she spends much of her time at campaign headquarters in Washington. "The kids? She fits them in," said Connie Mackey, the campaign's national finance director. "They'll tell you she's at every basketball game. She drives them to school in the morning. She does everything. The only thing she doesn't do is sleep."

And at campaign clinch time, she flies to her brother's side.

Sometimes she is his apologist, telling the San Diego Union-Tribune that the brawling brother of her youth is "anything but mean-spirited." He's "witty, a little mischievous," she adds.

Often she is spin doctor. Tuesday night, before Buchanan's disappointing third-place finish in the Arizona primary became a reality, she was stressing the positive.

"The crowds have been anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 wherever he went" in Arizona, she said in a television interview. "Pat has a conservative message. He's the only real conservative in the race."

Always she is the fierce defender. On Thursday, she termed ABC newsman Ted Koppel "a two-faced, anti-Catholic bigot" as she assailed a "Nightline" report last week that said the Buchanans' father had been a regular listener to the anti-Semitic radio broadcasts of Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s.

Koppel apologized on air Tuesday for that assertion; on Thursday, he responded to Bay Buchanan's bigotry charge by calling it "unfair and absolutely untrue."

Bay Buchanan was born 47 years ago in the nation's capital, one of nine scrappy children in a sprawling, tight-knit Catholic family. After her birth, several of her toddler brothers, still new to talk, couldn't say the word "baby," so they called her Bay. They still do. It is likely the only soft thing about her.

Mackey contends that Bay Buchanan's best skill is her decisiveness--a critical attribute in a lean campaign.

"She can stop on a dime and shift gears as she sees fit for the campaign," Mackey said. "She's a quick decision-maker. It's incredible strategy. She described it once: 'We're a motorboat up against the Dole battleship.' . . . She and our small staff can run up and around those battleships at will. She's very good at that."

She's very good at a lot of things, not just politics. At a time when few women studied mathematics, she earned an undergraduate degree in the subject at a Catholic school outside of Philadelphia, and later a master's degree in it at Montreal's McGill University.

In 1972, she took a leave of absence from her Canadian studies to work as a bookkeeper on President Nixon's reelection campaign. Seven years later, at the age of 30, she was named national treasurer of Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign.

She was a stalwart Republican, but not always single-minded one. In the middle of Watergate, she became so disillusioned by the scandal that she left for Australia. "They were all people I knew, and one was pitted against another," she recalled in a later interview.

Politics and the United States were not the only thing she broke from during her years down under. While there, she dated an American businessman who had been a Mormon missionary. The relationship ended; the religion stuck.

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