Delaware win by Forbes underlines problems for Dole

 

THE MILLIONAIRE publisher, Mr Steve Forbes, has kept his presidential campaign alive with a solid win in Saturday's Delaware primary - a result which merely underlines the difficulties faced by Senator Bob Dole in his faltering bid for the White House.

In securing his first primary victory, Mr Forbes won 33 per cent of the vote and all 12 of the delegates which Delaware will send to the Republican convention in San Diego in August. Mr Dole came second with 27 per cent, followed by Mr Pat Buchanan with 19 per cent and Mr Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor, with 13.

For Mr Forbes, the win in a state where he alone of the major candidates campaigned seriously was essential; anything less, after the $20 million of his own money he has spent, would have invited ridicule and intense pressure to withdraw, in the higher interest of party unity against the divisive conservatism of Mr Buchanan.

Now, however, Mr Forbes will soldier on, siphoning off votes that will only complicate Mr Dole's task in winning a nomination that barely three months ago looked a virtual certainty for him. Instead, he has yet to win a primary, and his failure in Delaware cannot wholly be explained by his decision, out of deference to New Hampshire, not to campaign actively in the state.

In fact, as across the country, he had lined up the local Republican establishment behind him in a state whose low key strain of politics should have suited him perfectly. But Mr Dole failed - just as it seems he could also fail in the two most important primaries this week, in Arizona tomorrow and in South Carolina on Saturday.

The Senate majority leader should succeed in both North and South Dakota, plains states like his native Kansas. But bad defeats in Arizona and South Carolina could be fatal - especially if reports are true that Mr Dole's primary spending will soon bump up against the 537 million ceiling imposed by electoral law for candidates who accept federal matching funds.

Nonetheless, and despite the Buchanan surge which sends shudders through the party hierarchy, Mr Dole remains the top choice of ordinary Republican voters. In a Newsweek poll 37 per cent favour him, down only slightly from 43 a month ago. But Mr Buchanan has jumped from eight to 21. Third is Mr Alexander with 14 per cent, followed by Mr Forbes with eight (down from 7 per cent a month ago).