GOP Field at the Summer Turn

SINCE 1952, no Republican has become president without winning the New Hampshire primary. Only one Democrat, Bill Clinton, has done so. While most Americans are busy planning their summer vacations and selecting their beach reading, the candidates have been running hard since the race got under way in February.

After a springtime of New Hampshire politicking, it seems like a good time to check on where the race stands there:

Sen. Bob Dole: The Senate majority leader is the front-runner by a wide margin, and right now the race seems his to lose. He's well known and well liked in New Hampshire, where he's run before. But Mr. Dole has to try to get the House GOP's Contract With America passed; that won't be easy. Texas Sen. Phil Gramm will be there to criticize Dole if too many compromises have to be made. And two other senators are also running.

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Sen. Phil Gramm: The Texan's trying to paint himself as the true conservative in the race. His deficit-fighting credentials ought to serve him well in New Hampshire. But, although Granite State Sen. Bob Smith is his national co-chair, Senator Gramm doesn't seem to light any fires under the state's Republicans. He's also in hot water over residual feeling that he supports primaries in other states that would be earlier than New Hampshire's. Look for Gramm to cause more trouble for Dole on the Senate floor as he has done with tax-cut proposals and Henry Foster's nomination for surgeon general. But Gramm needs to rub elbows more with the public: He did so effectively on a recent trip around the state.

Sen. Richard Lugar: Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city, now sports a huge blue-and-yellow Lugar billboard on its main street. And there's hardly a weekend when Indiana's respected senior senator isn't meeting the voters. He's one of the GOP's top foreign-policy experts, but it's hard to make nuclear proliferation exciting, even though it's terribly important. So Senator Lugar has developed an intriguing and innovative proposal to replace the income tax with a consumption tax on retail sales. He is working hard to put more oomph into his speeches, which often seem flat.

Sen. Arlen Specter: The Pennsylvanian has made an issue of replacing the graduated income tax with a flat tax. He and California Gov. Pete Wilson are the only candidates in the race who are pro-choice on abortion. The irony is that on this issue, at least, Senator Specter reflects what polls say are the views of most Republican voters, as opposed to Republican activists, who are largely anti-abortion and tend to vote in large numbers in GOP primaries.

Lamar Alexander: A former governor of Tennessee and US secretary of education, Mr. Alexander campaigns as a Washington outsider who wants to turn over to states and cities every decision possible. He plans to spend several days over the next few months walking around New Hampshire, a tactic that worked well for him in Tennessee. If that doesn't ignite his campaign, it's hard to see what will.

Patrick Buchanan: It looks as if Mr. Buchanan's strategy is to be always to the right of the rest of the field. Some part of the GOP has always held his populist and isolationist views, but it's been decades since such a skillful advocate appeared. Most New Hampshire observers believe Buchanan has a political base of about 10 percent and that the rest of the 37 percent he got in 1992 was a vote against President Bush. Yet Buchanan has already pulled the campaign to the right, repeating his feat from the last campaign.

Alan Keyes: It's about time a black man was seriously campaigning for the GOP nomination, although Mr. Keyes's real concern is stopping abortion, not being president. He and Buchanan have made it an issue to the annoyance of the other candidates, especially Dole and Gramm, who were hoping to keep it quiet.

Rep. Robert Dornan: The California congressman says he's the "best of all the rest," meaning that whatever a given opponent's positions or qualifications, he's held his views longer and his resume is stronger. Maybe, but it's not much to peg a presidential race on.

Gov. Pete Wilson: California's governor holds a lot of cards: He's the leader of the most populous state; he's got what should be a good campaign staff; he's strong on the issues of immigration reform, welfare reform, and affirmative action. So why is his campaign floundering? Although he's only been to New Hampshire once this spring, he scores ahead of several others in polls. If he makes an effort there, he could surprise a lot of people.

But February 1996 is a long way off. Hand us that paperback, would you?

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