NEW YORK — THE campaign of Steve Forbes has become as twisted and complex as the income-tax code he so reviles.
On a day when there were reports that Mr. Forbes was withdrawing from the race, he instead remained very much in the running and landed on the same platform as former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, who endorsed Forbes and his flat-tax concept.
The Kemp endorsement, says William Schneider, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, keeps the Forbes campaign for the GOP presidential nomination alive and helps give the flat tax legitimacy.
It also won't hurt Forbes. ''Kemp will be on the same platform with Steve Forbes,'' says Mr. Schneider.
Although Forbes says he will stay in the race, his prospects, at least in New York, continue to look dim.
Senator Dole remains firmly ahead in the polls in New York. According to the New York Post/Fox Television tracking poll, the Kansas senator has the support of 48 percent of Republican voters in the state, compared with 18.7 percent for Forbes and 15.3 percent for Pat Buchanan. Forbes clearly hopes Mr. Kemp's late endorsement will bring moderate Republicans into his column.
Mr. Dole, backed by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and Gov. George Pataki, is counting on the party machine to get out the vote.
A New York win would follow Dole's sweep on Tuesday of eight primaries from the Rockies to New England. New York, however, represents the largest prize to date - 102 delegates to the convention in San Diego.
If Dole wins in New York, it will only add to his momentum as the presumptive nominee - and accelerate his look ahead to November. Several candidates have already pulled out of the race. New York could be the moment of truth for Forbes in particular.
While he has the money to stay in the race until the convention, a loss on his home turf would make a winning scenario difficult to fathom, though he could stay in for other reasons.
''It would be virtually impossible for any other candidate to sustain an argument he would likely be the nominee,'' says Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia. In 1992, President Clinton used the momentum of his victory in the New York primary to garner the Democratic nomination.
The fact that Forbes worked so hard to get on the ballot - spending $1 million of his own money to collect the needed signatures - made the New York vote more important. ''It means a lot more if Dole wins since it's a real race,'' says Mr. Sabato.
For Forbes, a victory is critical. His last win was in Arizona on Feb. 27.
''The New York primary is probably his best hope to indicate weakness in the Dole campaign,'' says James Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Racing around New York this week, Forbes stuck to his flat-tax message, which he shares with Kemp.
Former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, a Forbes supporter, says the candidate is looking beyond New York to Super Tuesday with its 362 delegates. Then on March 26, Forbes hopes to do well in California, which selects 165 delegates.
Forbes and Kemp share many of the same ideas, including a return to the gold standard. Until now, the co-founder of Empower America - which has been heavily supported by Forbes - has remained neutral and would not make a commitment to Forbes.
Early in the week, the publisher made a last-minute push for votes. He mounted a two-day bus tour across upstate New York. In the meantime, he continued to run his ads for the flat tax on radio and television.
Forbes said he was glad to see Lamar Alexander and Richard Lugar drop out of the race.
Despite all the spending by Forbes, there were anecdotal signs that the message was not resonating - even among those in the financial sector who presumably are his base of support.
''He's a one-message candidate,'' said Michael Darling, who works for a Wall Street investment banking firm.
''Not enough experience,'' added John Krey, who also works on Wall Street.
Instead, both men say they will vote for Dole, whom they heard address the Association for a Better New York on Tuesday. At the breakfast meeting, Dole touched on an issue popular among some New Yorkers.
He suggested the US consider curtailing aid to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) unless its chairman, Yasser Arafat, finds a way to stop the Hamas bombing. It was one of the few times the bipartisan crowd applauded the Kansan.