- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000

Say what you will about the unrepresentative nature of New Hampshire's population as compared with the rest of the United States. The state's voters, who have been the first in the nation to cast ballots in state presidential primaries since 1952, have an uncanny ability to pick the winner in November.

Since that year, when World War II hero Dwight Eisenhower knocked off Robert "Mr. Republican" Taft in New Hampshire's first presidential primary, no GOP candidate has won the presidency in November without first winning the New Hampshire primary. That includes not only Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, but Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988. Indeed, the predictive powers of this primary are such that in 1992 Bill Clinton became the first, and only, candidate elected president since 1952 who did not win the New Hampshire primary.

On the Republican side, if not the Democratic, today's primary in New Hampshire will undoubtedly continue the winnowing process. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch left the race after his disappointing performance in Iowa, leaving five Republican candidates contesting the nomination in New Hampshire. Expect one or two more to leave the race after this primary.

The biggest differences among the Republican candidates involve the relative size of their tax-cut proposals, their positions on campaign-finance reform and their degree of pro-life commitment. Both publisher Steve Forbes and social conservative Gary Bauer, for example, have offered flat-tax proposals, while former U.S. diplomat Alan Keyes would replace the income tax altogether with a national sales tax. George W. Bush has offered a five-year, $483 billion tax reduction.

Arizona Sen. John McCain has set himself apart from the group with a number of controversial plans. He has offered a relatively small five-year, $237 billion tax cut, which he would reduce even further by eliminating what he perceives to be $150 billion in special-interest tax loopholes. Portraying himself as a party "maverick" and an "outsider," Mr. McCain, has also proposed campaign-finance legislation that would not only conflict with the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech but would unilaterally emasculate his party's soft-money fund-raising advantage, which it uses to offset the hundreds of millions of dollars in mandatory and in-kind contributions from labor unions to the Democratic Party. Finally, he has made comments on abortion which he frequently has had to explain and revise in recent days, leading some of his opponents to question the sincerity of his pro-life position.

In recent days, Mr. Bush has picked up two important endorsements. Jack Kemp, the GOP's 1996 candidate for vice president who endorsed Mr. Forbes in 1996, is supporting Mr. Bush this year. So is former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who played an indispensable role in Mr. Bush's father's 1988 New Hampshire primary victory over Iowa victor Bob Dole and whom the younger Mr. Bush later fired as White House chief of staff.

Nonetheless, the New Hampshire campaign is extremely fluid and very difficult to predict. Although the CNN-Gallup-USA Today New Hampshire day-to-day tracking poll indicates that Mr. McCain opened a 10-point lead over Mr. Bush during the weekend, most polls suggest the race is too close to call between the two candidates. Mr. Forbes, who garnered 30 percent of Iowa's caucus votes last week and who received the endorsement of New Hampshire's largest newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader, is a distant third, according to the latest polls, followed by Mr. Keyes, who substantially exceeded expectations in Iowa by gaining 14 percent of the vote there, and Mr. Bauer. Unless the self-financed Mr. Forbes finishes fourth, the two candidates at the bottom of the results tally may find it financially impossible to continue to compete.

Whichever Republican wins the New Hampshire primary today surely hopes that the state's predictive powers will hold. By tonight we should have a clearer picture of the general election.

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