- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2000

Texas Gov. George W. Bush got a much-needed boost last night with an win in Delaware's Republican presidential primary, while publisher Steve Forbes possibly hearing the death knell for his campaign a third-place finish behind absentee candidate John McCain.

"I'm honored by the vote," Mr. Bush said in South Carolina, where he was campaigning. "I won the vote quite substantially. I think this is a piece of good news that will buoy our supporters."

With all 28 of Delaware's precincts reporting, Mr. Bush had 51 percent of the vote, with Mr. McCain second at 25 percent and Mr. Forbes third at 20 percent. Conservative Alan Keyes had 4 percent.

Mr. McCain gloated last night about his second-place finish despite his having ignored Delaware.

"We never even went there. We didn't spend a penny there," Mr. McCain said, calling it "remarkable" so many Delaware primary voters were backing him anyway.

But he said he was "still the underdog."

Mr. Bush's victory soothed the sting of last week's 18-point loss to Mr. McCain in New Hampshire, and the results further imperiled the flagging candidacy of Mr. Forbes. The publishing magnate had campaigned hard in Delaware this year, and had won the state's 1996 Republican primary.

Forbes campaign manager Bill Dal Col attributed Mr. Forbes' disappointing showing to "a different chemistry" in the race compared with 1996 and to low voter turnout.

"We'll assess things as we move forward," Mr. Dal Col said. "Clearly, we would have liked to have done better."

The third-place finish in a state where Forbes aides had predicted victory two weeks ago likely will increase the pressure from party leaders for Mr. Forbes to drop out.

Mr. Dal Col said such pressure would have no effect.

"[Mr. Forbes] makes his decisions on what he sees and feels, not what others do," he said. "He took it in stride."

But a senior adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that aides were recommending that the candidate depart the race and that Mr. Forbes was likely to do so.

Mr. Forbes failed to finish ahead of Mr. McCain in Delaware despite a primary system that should have aided him, because only registered Republicans can vote. Mr. McCain attracted many independents in New Hampshire's open primary.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain accused each other of Clintonian double-speak on the campaign trail yesterday for breaking their handshake deal not to run negative campaign ads.

Mr. Bush said Mr. McCain is not the political maverick he claims, saying that as head of the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and as a campaigner he "tends to say one thing and do another."

Mr. McCain said in a new ad that Mr. Bush "twists the truth like [President] Clinton."

According to exit polls, about eight in 10 voters called themselves Republicans and about half of that group voted for Mr. Bush.

Those same polls suggested Mr. McCain benefited from a wave of post-New Hampshire publicity: Almost half of his supporters decided to vote for him in the week since that primary.

Delaware Republicans rated Mr. Bush highly on the character issue. Retired maintenance supervisor Dan Gresco of Lewes said he voted for Mr. Bush because "he's a good man."

"He ran the state of Texas very well," said Mr. Gresco, 65. "I think he has good ideas about taxes, and I like his philosophy about a strong military."

Mr. Gresco said he didn't like Mr. McCain because "he couldn't even spend the time to come to this small state."

Delaware ranks 45th in population, and Mr. Bush's victory in the winner-take-all primary only nets 12 Republican National Convention delegates. But Bush strategists hope Mr. McCain's momentum in polls will now slow.

The two candidates are in a statistical tie in surveys in South Carolina, where Mr. Bush held a 20-point lead last month.

South Carolina holds its crucial first-in-the-South primary Feb. 19.

The Bush campaign yesterday continued to belittle Mr. McCain's claims that he is a reformer, referring to him as "Chairman McCain" five times in a five-paragraph press release.

Visiting a firehouse in Delaware earlier, Mr. Bush called the latest McCain piece "sad" and added, "The true nature of John McCain evidently is coming out."

The latest example of Mr. McCain's hypocrisy, Mr. Bush said, was Mr. McCain's statement a day earlier that he had always opposed public funding of elections. The Bush campaign listed five McCain votes from 1990 to 1993 in favor of a bill that proposed partial public funding of Senate campaigns.

"Senator McCain voted not once, not twice, but five times to support publicly funded congressional campaigns," Mr. Bush told reporters after speaking to a cheering student crowd at North Greenville College.

McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky said all the votes were against cloture motions voting to continue debate to keep opponents from thwarting any campaign finance reform.

Asked about Mr. McCain, whom Mr. Bush had called his "buddy," he said: "I will still give him the benefit of the doubt and say he's a good man, but this campaign has taken a new twist."

Mr. McCain's attack ad prompted South Carolina's 97-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond, who is backing Mr. Bush, to issue a statement denouncing Mr. McCain.

"There is no excuse for the negative ads that Senator McCain's strategists and politicos are running in South Carolina," Mr. Thurmond said.

Mr. McCain told reporters he would respond to every attack. "And we're going to respond harder than we're hit, and that's an old tactic in warfare," he said.

He said the Bush campaign went "beyond the pale" in South Carolina by encouraging the chairman of a veterans group to accuse Mr. McCain of abandoning veterans and POWs as a congressman.

"I believe it is not trustworthy when someone shakes your hand and says they're not going to run a negative ad and then runs a negative ad," the Arizona senator said. "We've already got somebody in the Oval Office we can't trust."

But asked whether he was calling Mr. Bush untrustworthy, Mr. McCain said "no."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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