Divided Republican Party faces bitter conflict

 

AFTER Mr Pat Buchanan's stunning victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary, the badly split Republican Party is preparing for one of the most bitter fights in its history.

As the three leading candidates left New Hampshire to take their campaigns to more than 20 states in the next four weeks, Mr Buchanan warned of the mud slinging expected in the days ahead. They are going to come after this campaign with everything they've got - mount up," the fiery Mr Buchanan told supporters after his razor thin victory over Senator Bob Dole.

In the last few days of the campaign, stories emerged that two of his campaign aides had connections with white supremacist groups, and the media have been delving into past extreme utterances of the former television commentator.

Senator Dole, who some weeks ago seemed to be coasting to the party's nomination at its convention in San Diego in August, lost to Mr Buchanan by 26 to 27 per cent.

The former Tennessee governor Mr Lamar Alexander got 23 per cent of the vote and the publisher Mr Steve Forbes, also an early favourite, finished fourth with 12 per cent.

Mr Buchanan, who served as a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, has alienated many Republicans with his strident brand of conservatism. He threw down the gauntlet to them during his raucous victory celebration.

"We are on the verge of taking back our party," he told thousands of cheering supporters. "We are on the verge of taking it back as a prelude to taking back our country, as a prelude to taking back the destiny of America."

It was a bitter defeat for the 72 year old Senate majority leader, who said afterwards that the fight was on for the very soul of the Republican Party.

He tried to laugh off his treatment by New Hampshire, which twice before ended his presidential aspirations. "Now I know why they call New Hampshire the granite state," he told supporters. "It's so hard to crack."

The Second World War hero campaigned as a trusted and tested leader with 35 years service in Congress and one more mission to complete the taking of the White House.

"It's going to be a two man race from now on (and) it's going to be a one man race before long," said Senator Dole, who travelled yesterday to campaign in North Dakota. "No doubt about it, you're looking at the nominee of the Republican Party right now."

The primary fights would now decide "whether we are the party of fear or the party of hope", he said.

Mr Dole, who promised that Whitewater would be a feature of his battle against President Bill Clinton if he wins the nomination, issued an oblique warning that Mr Alexander could also come under close scrutiny because of past financial dealings.

"I don't know, maybe Lamar is worried about it, somebody will talk about his finances," said Mr Dole, referring to the fact that the former Tennessee governor has played down the significance of Whitewater. "He's saying, `You don't talk about mine, I won't talk about yours'."

By running a strong third in New Hampshire, Mr Alexander emerged in a position to challenge Senator Dole as a moderate alternative to Mr Buchanan. Yesterday he described Mr Dole as mortally wounded and urged him to drop out to clear the way for a two man debate on the future of the Republican Party.

"Someone needs to take on Buchananism," he said. "I mean Pat Buchanan has an odd set of views. He has Ted Kennedy's labour policies. He has Dick Gephardt's trade policies. He has George McGovern's foreign policies. Those aren't conservative policies."

Senator Edward Kennedy, the House minority leader Mr Dick Gephardt and Mr George McGovern are leaders of the liberal wing in the Democratic Party.

Mr Buchanan struck a chord, with blue collar conservatives by taking an unyielding antiabortion stand and attacking big corporations for mass lay offs. He also criticised trade agreements which allegedly cost Americans thousands of jobs.

The 57 year old commentator, his voice hoarse from speech making, told his victory rally that his brand of politics "is a conservatism that looks out for the working men and women of this country, whose jobs have been sacrificed on the altars of trade deals done for the benefit of transnational corporations, who have no loyalty to America and no loyalty to anybody."

He added, with his characteristic high pitched laugh: "They call me a socialist. They call me the right. They can't figure out where we arc.

Mr Dole, despite his setback, has the finances to sustain his candidacy, while Mr Alexander and Mr Buchanan are now operating on shoestrings.

As of January 31st, Mr Dole had $8.5 million, having spent more than 7 million during January. Mr Alexander had only $2 million as of January 31st, according to returns made by the candidates to the Federal Election Commission. Mr Buchanan had $1.7 million but he runs a low budget base and has strong fund raising potential.

Mr Forbes, who vowed to continue his flat tax campaign all the way to San Diego, refused to release his FEC returns but is believed to have spent $7 million of his own fortune in January.

Mr Buchanan told the television network CNN that he had to win only about one more major primary "and I think if that happens Senator Dole's campaign will basically implode."

He boasted that he could put together a coalition to beat Mr Clinton on November 5th. "I would beg those fellows in Washington: look, it is clear Pat Buchanan represents working class votes," he said in an interview in Columbia, South Carolina, where he campaigned for that state's March 2nd primary.

"If these fellows will simply open the door we can put together a coalition that will beat Bill Clinton. But, for heaven's sakes, stop the panicky name calling, behave like adults, come on out and let's debate issues: are these trade treaties good for America?"