- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2000

In years past, the first Tuesday to hold a significant number of presidential primaries, usually dominated by Southern states, was universally known as "Super Tuesday." Measured even by that standard, the number of convention delegates that voters will select across the nation today dwarfs whatever occurred in previous election years. Some observers have aptly named today's collection of primaries and caucuses "Titanic Tuesday." Indeed, today voters will select nearly 60 percent of the delegates required for nomination in each party. Altogether, more than a dozen states will be holding primaries and caucuses today for each party, including primaries in Maryland, New York, Ohio and California. What will happen at the polls today could well determine the likely nominees for both Democrats and Republicans.
Vice President Al Gore will almost certainly wrap up the Democratic nomination, Mr. Bradley, who regularly allowed Mr. Gore to define the terms of their increasingly testy policy debates, has botched a once-solid opportunity to topple a sitting vice president for the nomination. As liberal pundit Mark Shields noted, "Al Gore may win ugly, but he wins."
Speaking of ugly: What began as principled Republican debates over tax-cut plans, campaign-finance-reform proposals and long-term budget policies quickly evolved into a series of negative assaults. From here, it seemed that Arizona Sen. John McCain initiated the fracases, first by grossly mischaracterizing Texas Gov. George W. Bush's fiscal plan for Social Security and then by running ads in South Carolina accusing Mr. Bush of being as untrustworthy as President Clinton.
After Mr. McCain, relying mostly on the votes of independents and moderates, walloped Mr. Bush in the New Hampshire GOP primary, Mr. Bush frantically set about solidifying the Republican base in South Carolina. Following in the footprints of previous GOP presidential nominees, Mr. Bush delivered a speech at Bob Jones University, a visit that Mr. McCain later nastily tried to exploit as an anti-Catholic assault.
As Mr. Bush set about consolidating the Republican base, it seems Mr. McCain did every thing he could to blow it up by alienating religious conservatives. In a calculated move to increase his growing appeal to Democrats and independents and his magnetic appeal to the national media, Mr. McCain unleashed a vituperative attack against the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, two longtime, influential leaders of religious conservatives. Before that, his so-called "straight-talk" campaign had lied about being behind a barrage of negative telephone calls in Michigan. Speaking in Virginia, Mr. McCain called Messrs. Robertson and Falwell "agents of intolerance." Then, using language similar to that deployed by President Reagan to attack the Soviet Union, Mr. McCain intensified his rhetoric, telling reporters that Messrs. Robertson and Falwell were "forces of evil." This proved to be too much for Gary Bauer, who after inexplicably endorsing Mr. McCain belatedly called upon him to retract his statements and apologize. Unpersuasively, Mr. McCain insisted his "forces-of-evil" remark was nothing more than a "lighthearted attempt" at humor.
In today's vote, "the big enchilada" is California's Republican primary, whose winner-take-all delegate rules require only Republican ballots to be counted. It is expected to deliver all 162 delegates to Mr. Bush's column. While Mr. McCain has several times forsworn any possibility that he would run on a third party ticket in the November general election, his campaign aides have darkly hinted that he might challenge California's delegate slate at the Republican National Convention if he wins the state's beauty contest but loses the delegate primary among Republicans. Mr. McCain agreed to abide by the rules of the California primary long before he became the Democratic Party's favorite Republican. But if he reneges on his earlier pledge to abide by California's rules, the divisions he has already inflicted upon the Republican Party can only become worse, a development that Mr. Gore and Mr. McCain's current media friends would greet with euphoria.

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