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CAMPAIGN 2000

McCain, Bradley Close to Conceding

Politics: Defeated GOP and Democratic candidates plan announcements today. Arizona senator decides to 'suspend' his campaign.

March 09, 2000|MARK Z. BARABAK and CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITERS

Buried in a bicoastal landslide, John McCain prepared Wednesday to fold his insurgent campaign and effectively concede the GOP presidential nomination to George W. Bush.

In New Jersey, his Democratic counterpart, Bill Bradley, also readied to end his uphill campaign today at a news conference in his home state. Campaign insiders said Bradley would endorse Al Gore, starting the party's healing process.

McCain decided late Wednesday to "suspend" his campaign, a move that allows him to continue to control the delegates he has won if he chooses to resume campaigning later. It was unclear whether McCain intends to do so, but the matter may be moot if Bush wins sufficient delegates in Tuesday's primaries to clinch the nomination.

"We will be suspending the campaign," was all one campaign source would say. The source did not know whether McCain would endorse the Texas governor today, although that appeared unlikely.

McCain spent Wednesday sequestered with family and top advisors at his retreat in the red rock country of Arizona. At nightfall, aides scrapped McCain's travel schedule and said he would make a "major announcement" today in Arizona.

With the campaigns of their challengers all but over, Gore and Bush swung into the fall election Wednesday, tangling over taxes, gun control, ethics and honesty in a preview of a fierce fight to November.

Having virtually secured their respective party nominations, the two rivals moved to stake their place in the broad political center--where presidential campaigns are usually decided--by sounding common themes of reform and reconciliation.

Results from Tuesday's balloting showed the full measure of the front-runners' commanding performances.

Vice President Gore carried all 15 states awarding Democratic delegates, as well as American Samoa. He took several by huge margins. In addition to winning California's Democrat primary--crushing Bradley 81% to 18%--the vice president also finished first in the multicandidate "beauty contest," topping the field with 35% to Bush's 28% and McCain's 23%.

Texas Gov. Bush won 9 of 13 states voting in Republican primaries and caucuses Tuesday, including the three biggest prizes, California, New York and Ohio. He won California's GOP contest 60%-35%.

Observers See Tight Race in November

With their Tuesday night victory parties scarcely ended, Bush and Gore on Wednesday began the eight-month campaign that will carry them to the Nov. 7 election, testing themes, trying new lines and probing for weaknesses to exploit in the weeks and months ahead. In Austin, Bush held a 90-minute brainstorming session with his top advisors. Gore was on the breakfast chat-show circuit.

Most observers predicted a close and aggressively fought campaign.

"They both have strengths and weaknesses. Gore's weakness is Clinton and Buddhist monks and the constant desire for change, no matter what the overall environment is," said analyst Stuart Rothenberg, referring to the vice president's role in the 1996 campaign-finance scandal. "And Bush's weaknesses are questions about Bush and whether he can revert back to his previous image of an inclusive centrist. I wouldn't put money down on this."

For now, the presumptive nominees plan to continue campaigning in the upcoming primary states. On Friday, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah will vote and Bush plans to visit all three today. On Sunday and Monday, Bush will be in Florida, Gore's home state of Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma. All of those states hold their primaries Tuesday, although Louisiana's contest is only for Democrats. Bush will also travel soon to Illinois, which has its primary on March 21.

"Just because we appear to be on the verge of the nomination doesn't mean we'll walk away from these other states," said Ari Fleischer, a Bush spokesman.

After facing a costlier challenge than expected, Bush will also set out to replenish his once-fat campaign coffers. A series of fund-raisers is scheduled starting next week, with a goal of raising up to $10 million by May.

Campaign officials would not say how much money they have left. However, a Bush aide said the next legally required disclosure report, due March 20, would show a minimum of $10 million cash on hand.

After an easier than expected race, Gore insiders say the campaign has $13 million to $15 million left to spend.

Gore's schedule also suggests no immediate letup in campaigning. He held a question and answer session Wednesday night with undecided voters in Detroit and planned a stop in Minnesota today before returning to Washington tonight. Then Gore planned to head back out Friday, with a weekend stop in Bush's Texas.

Gore Set to Visit Key Swing States

"Keep your seat belt on. The schedule is jammed full," said spokesman Chris Lehane.

The likely stops include Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida--all states that form, with several others in the old Rust Belt and Northeast, the conventional battlegrounds that are crucial for victory in November.

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