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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush, Gore Win Coast to Coast

With Victories, Both Close In on Nominations. GOP's McCain and Democrat Bradley are expected to reassess campaigns. In California, front-runners make strong showing.

March 08, 2000|MARK Z. BARABAK and CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITERS

Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore rolled to coast-to-coast primary victories Tuesday, setting up an expected matchup between the two this November.

Bush triumphed easily over John McCain in California's delegate contest and won primaries in more than a half-dozen other states, including Ohio and New York.

On the Democratic side, Gore turned a once-competitive race with Bill Bradley into a rout. His support topped 80% in Georgia, 70% in Ohio, and 60% in New York, Maryland and Missouri. The vice president ran strongly in California returns as well, winning big among Democrats--whose votes count for convention delegates--and leading in the "beauty contest" that lumped all candidates together.

Bradley was poised to leave the race Thursday, and McCain also was reassessing his campaign.

While McCain held out hope for a symbolic popular vote victory in California, projections showed him coming in third. Bradley and Republican Alan Keyes were the fourth- and fifth-place finishers.

Gore and Bush quickly turned their sights to November--and each other--using their victory speeches to preview their fall campaigns and reach out to the independent voters who are crucial in deciding presidential campaigns. Both sounded reform themes and urged crossover voters to embrace their campaigns.

"My friends, they don't call it Super Tuesday for nothing," an exultant Gore said to about 500 supporters at a hotel in Nashville. "My heart is full tonight."

In remarks clearly aimed at Bush and his fellow Republicans, Gore said he hoped to "build on our record of prosperity. We don't need to go back to where we were eight years ago."

America "tried their approach before," he said. "It produced a . . . recession and quadrupled the national debt. If you don't want to go back to that, then join us now. Our campaign is your cause."

Looking ahead to the general election, Gore challenged his GOP opponent--presumably Bush--to twice-weekly debates. And picking up where McCain left off, Gore stressed his call for a ban on so-called soft money, the largely unregulated contributions at the heart of the 1996 campaign-finance scandal.

Gore said he would challenge the GOP nominee to hold open meetings with him, allowing voters to question the two candidates simultaneously. Such joint appearances, he said, would "make this a contest of ideas and not insults, a campaign conducted in full daylight and not through secretly funded special-interest attack ads or smear telephone calls."

Bush, widely heralded as the party's savior before his campaign was stunned by a succession of early McCain victories, accepted Tuesday's wins in an Austin, Texas, hotel ballroom packed with cheering supporters.

"We were challenged, and we met the challenge," the Texas governor said. "We were tested, and we were equal to the test. We promised a national campaign, and tonight we have a national victory."

He reached out to McCain and Keyes, whose convictions he lauded. And he raised a fist to Gore, against whom he appears likely to run in the fall.

"He is the candidate of the status quo in Washington, D.C., . . . and he has a tough case to make in the general election," he declared. "I will repair the broken bonds of trust between Americans and their government."

Vows to Return Honor to White House

Bush also came close to casting his campaign as a continuation of the reign of his father, former President Bush, who served one term before his 1992 loss to Bill Clinton and his running mate, Gore. He said: "We are ready--and I believe this great country of ours is ready--to return exiled honor to the White House."

For his part, McCain issued vague indications that his campaign might not last out the week. He plans to meet with senior aides at his Cottonwood, Ariz., retreat today.

"We won a few and we lost a few today," the senator from Arizona told supporters at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. "And over the next few days, we will take some time to enjoy our victories and take stock of our losses."

Across the country, in New York City, Bradley met defeat with brevity after phoning Gore with congratulations for the first time in the campaign. "He won; I lost," the subdued candidate told hundreds of supporters in a hotel ballroom done up in red, white and blue.

"Change isn't easy," he went on, signaling that his bid to upset Gore had come to an end. "It doesn't always come quickly . . . . I hope history will write that we tried to change politics, to restore trust and to defeat the politics of expediency."

Long before the polls closed, the Bradley camp took steps to end his candidacy, which never recovered from his loss five weeks ago in the New Hampshire primary. His withdrawal is expected Thursday.

Based on preliminary results, Gore is about halfway to the 2,170 delegates needed to win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

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