FOR Bill Clinton, the Super Tuesday firebreak worked. The prairie fire of voter support that Paul Tsongas ignited in New Hampshire and fanned in Maryland and Utah failed to jump the Mason-Dixon line.
With Clinton's impressive victories in eight of the 11 Democratic primaries and caucuses held Tuesday, including a clean sweep of the states in his native South, his chief rival must again prove that his message can outduel Clinton's campaign juggernaut outside Tsongas's region.
For the first time since its inception in 1984, Super Tuesday achieved what its Democratic planners envisioned: to afford a combination safe harbor and launching pad to a moderate, "electable," and preferably Southern presidential candidate who might be able to wrest that region back from the Republicans. In neither '84 nor '88 was the configuration of candidates and issues suited to achieving the originators' dream.
But Super Tuesday seemed to be scripted for this race and these candidates. Tsongas is not the quintessential Eastern liberal that Democratic centrists have wanted to avoid nominating; he's no Michael Dukakis. Nonetheless, with his pro-growth message Tsongas is not (despite his origins in blue-collar Lowell, Mass.) identified with the populist strains of the party's mainstream. By contrast, in background and message Bill Clinton is very nearly Central Casting's answer to the centrists' vision.
Yet even Super Tuesday's most ardent backers could not have foreseen that Clinton would get the landslide margins he enjoyed Tuesday. The day proved to be more than just a breather on Clinton's home turf. With his big triumphs even in states that aren't truly Southern - Hawaii, Missouri, and, most impressively, Florida, where transplanted Northerners were thought to give Tsongas a fighting chance - Clinton regained the "electability" mantle that appeared to be drooping in earlier contests. For Tsongas, a
claim to electability slipped further from his grasp.
The Democratic race is not over. Tsongas could recover momentum with strong showings next Tuesday in Illinois and Michigan. But after Super Tuesday, Tsongas has a nearly standing start.
On the Republican side, a now well established pattern held: Bush won all the races easily, but didn't shake the pesky protest vote. He's going to try to address voters' concerns by leaving the campaign trail and going back to being "presidential." Challenger Pat Buchanan is looking like little more than a petulant spoiler. The Republican race is now a yawner. The excitement will resume at the party's convention in August.