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CAMPAIGN 2000 | MIKE DOWNEY

2 Hares Leave 2 Tortoises in Dust of Super Tuesday

March 08, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

And then there were two. Al Gore and George W. Bush were huffing and puffing in a real four-way, anything-goes horse race there for a while, feeling the breath of Bill Bradley and John McCain warm against their necks. Everything changed, though, on Tuesday, the day they pulled away, a day that the Tennessean and the Texan concluded with no one left to compete against except each other.

Nothing is official, but let's face it, these races are as over as nearly over gets. By a few minutes past 8 p.m., with California's polls having just closed and more of New York's votes having been counted, it had already become quite clear--painfully, to some--that those once-surging Bradley and McCain campaigns could get the padlocks ready for their regional headquarters.

Credit was due, not unlike rent.

"He won, I lost"--a tabloid headline if ever an editor needed one--was Bradley's succinct concession in New York, where the former basketball hero's hopes were suddenly sagging like his jowls. The outcome of his primary battle with Gore was reported as too close to call by the TV networks for the first hour after New York's polls closed, but Bradley was eventually declared Tuesday's loser there--and everywhere.

Here in California, there was no waiting. The clock struck 8 here, 11 in New York and midnight for Bradley's campaign, which had just turned into a pumpkin. Gore had outrun him from coast to coast.

*

Meantime, emerging from the Beverly Hills hotel where he had spent much of the day holed up, watching television and doing radio interviews, John McCain too could do little else but congratulate his triumphant opponent and give him his due. He had begun this March morning with his eyes on the prize, but by nightfall, McCain's momentum was gone and he could barely see past tomorrow.

"We may meet again," he said of Bush, not very convincingly, "and we have both earned a little rest. Tomorrow we'll take a little time to reflect."

To reflect on what?

* Whether to stay in the race, for one.

Bush now possesses delegates galore and has easy-does-it primaries coming up next in Florida and Texas, so to say McCain's chances of winning the Republican nomination are now remote is putting it kindly. Had he taken California or New York, one or the other, things might be different. Now, though, it's time to call it a day.

* Whether to give a second thought to possibly being Bush's vice presidential partner, for another.

"Under no circumstances," McCain had responded earlier, when asked if he would ever consider being Bush's running mate. But in spite of their obvious differences, it might make a heck of a ticket. Bush will be hard pressed to find anyone to enhance his chances the way McCain would.

* Whether to represent a third party, last but not least.

If ever a time was ripe for a candidate to run as an independent, now might be it. With so many remaining lukewarm about both Bush and Gore, with the obvious popularity McCain has in much of the country and with no candidate emerging from the Reform Party or any other with a ghost of a chance, McCain might pull off a miracle.

"He hasn't really thought about that," one of McCain's campaign aides was quoted on television, "but he will now."

The little states in the northeast corner of America had gone for him in a big way--Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, to go with the New Hampshire success that put McCain on the map--and the Michigan victory had made it appear that the larger industrial states were his for the taking as well.

Bush, though, was just too far ahead of him, a hare that no tortoise from the party could catch. He had already cut a swath through Georgia, Maryland, Missouri and Ohio--four of the 20 largest states in terms of population--before the Super Tuesday Super Lotto jackpots of California and New York came in for George W.

*

All the "I (Heart) McCain" posters hanging from the walls of the candidate's West Hollywood headquarters were about to become recycled paper.

"I want to assure you all," McCain said to his supporters Tuesday night, "that our crusade continues tonight, tomorrow, the next day . . . "

He must have some other crusade in mind, because tonight, tomorrow and the next day, George W. Bush is not going to be caught.

*

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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