Dole Desperate for Win In Saturday's 'Big One'
COLUMBIA, S.C. AND WASHINGTON
IT'S crunch time for Bob Dole.Skip to next paragraph
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Following mixed results in Tuesday's primaries, the Republican Senate leader needs to win here in South Carolina to reinvigorate his campaign - and show that he can beat insurgent populist Pat Buchanan in a major state where the two are going head to head.
South Carolina represents a crucial gateway to the Republican nomination. Its primary on Saturday - the first in the region, making it a sort of ''New Hampshire of the South'' - could help give the turbulent GOP field some definition.
Unlike New Hampshire, though, South Carolina is emerging as more of a two-man race - Dole vs. Buchanan - and the Dole camp is hoping that weak campaign efforts here by Lamar Alexander and Steve Forbes will funnel enough of the traditional GOP vote to Dole to ensure victory.
The good news for Senator Dole is that Mr. Forbes's win in Arizona Tuesday undercuts some of the momentum of Mr. Buchanan, who came in a surprising third in the primary, behind Dole. His victory complicates the quest to see who'll be the Senate majority Senate majority leader's primary challenger.
On the other hand, Dole has yet to win a major state, despite his triumphs in North and South Dakota. Thus, if he doesn't win in South Carolina Saturday, it could raise serious questions about his credibility among party leaders as the nomination schedule moves into its most critical 10 days: At stake are some 750 delegates in 19 primaries and caucuses.
''South Carolina and Georgia could change the dynamics for the whole region,'' says Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. ''With the field so fluid, they will affect the subsequent elections.''
In a Mason-Dixon Poll published today in the Charleston Post and Courier, Dole maintains a strong lead in South Carolina. He was favored 35 to 24 percent over Buchanan. Alexander garnered 13 percent and Forbes 10 percent among likely Republican primary voters. The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday nights.
For his part, Dole is counting on the support of the state's Republican establishment here to carry him across the finish line. Gov. David Beasley, former Gov. Carroll Campbell, and Sen. Strom Thurmond, all enormously popular, are appearing with Dole on the stump. Governors Beasley and Campbell are featured in an often-airing television ad touting Dole as a conservative.
But, as Dole discovered in New Hampshire, big-name endorsements don't guarantee victory. And, as elsewhere, Buchanan has tapped into a well of support here among religious conservatives and people worried about global economic change. Unlike New Hampshire, South Carolina has a large Christian conservative population - about 30 to 40 percent of the Republican electorate, analysts say - and Buchanan is rapidly reeling in believers.
Last night, Buchanan was to address the congregation at the Evangel Cathedral in Spartanburg. And tonight, he'll appear at a Christian Coalition ''God and Country Rally'' in Columbia, the capital.
But South Carolina presents some paradoxes for Buchanan as well. While it has a strong Christian conservative presence, it also has an economy thriving on international trade - a boom that would seem to weaken Buchanan's arguments about job insecurity. Textile mills are closing, but in their place have come BMW, Fuji film, and the Italian firm Pirelli. In some regions of the state, unemployment is under 2 percent; good jobs are going unfilled.