- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas Gov. George W. Bush said yesterday that the high Republican turnouts propelling him to the presidential nomination are a sign that voters are disgusted with the Clinton administration and Vice President Al Gore.

"If I were Al Gore, I'd be worried about the fact that the Republican primaries are drawing a lot of voters," Mr. Bush said. "I think that's a good sign for the general election."

A day after taking an all-but-insurmountable lead in the Republican primary over Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Bush enjoyed a light schedule that included casting an absentee ballot for himself in Texas' primary, which will be held on Tuesday. After poring over the results of Super Tuesday's primaries in 13 states, Mr. Bush and his top aides said there is overwhelming evidence of Clinton fatigue.

"The interesting statistic is how many people came into our primary, compared to how many people came into the Democratic primary," Mr. Bush told reporters at the governor's mansion. "Senator McCain touched a nerve, and that is people are sick and tired of what's going on in Washington. I also touched that same nerve, that's why our party is energized."

In Maryland, where Democrats hold about a 5-to-1 registration edge over Republicans, about 420,000 people voted in the Republican contest, compared with 360,000 in the Democratic primary. In California, about 3.6 million people voted for Republican candidates, compared with 2.9 million for the Democrats. In Ohio, Republican turnout was about 1.3 million; it was about 950,000 on the Democratic side.

Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top strategist, said the Republican turnout advantage in Ohio was especially encouraging because there was a contested Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat. And Mr. Rove discounted the argument that many of the voters in Republican primaries are Democrats and independents who will revert to Mr. Gore in the fall.

"If they were truly conflicted, they'd just not be voting," Mr. Rove said. "They've made a conscious decision, and Bush won the majority of them."

Mr. Bush practically dared Republican primary voters yesterday to go back to Mr. Gore, making it clear that he believes such a move is irrational.

"If people are happy with the status quo in Washington, then vote for Al Gore," he said. "If people are happy with Al Gore and Bill Clinton, the tone they've set for America, then you've got a perfect person to vote for. I believe we ought to share some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills. He doesn't."

So eager is the Bush campaign to link Mr. Gore with the shortcomings of Mr. Clinton that one Bush aide told supporters at Tuesday night's victory party that it was time to end "the Gore-Clinton administration," reversing the usual order of their names.

Mr. Gore yesterday said he would challenge the Republican nominee to eliminate "soft money" in the presidential race. Mr. Bush said he welcomes such a debate but added that Mr. Gore is a poor choice to lead the discussion.

"The first thing he needs to do is debate Bill Clinton on soft money," Mr. Bush said. "It was just last week that Bill Clinton was bragging about how much soft money he had raised. This is an old ruse, it seems like to me. It's an attempt to divert the attention of America away from what has been going on in Washington, D.C., for seven years."

Mr. Bush said any agreements between the parties on soft money unlimited and largely unregulated donations raised by the party for issue advocacy and not for specific candidates must include provisions allowing union members to decide whether their dues should be used for political purposes. Labor unions are a crucial source of Democratic soft money.

Yet Mr. Bush also indicated that soft money is necessary, in part, to help conservative candidates get their message out and around a generally liberal media.

"What's important is to be able to encourage individuals to participate in the process so I can get my message out, so I can fight through the filter, so people can hear my ideas for reform of education, and my reforms for the military, and my economic growth plan that shares some of the surplus with people who pay the bills," he said.

Mr. Bush said he had a "good conversation" with Mr. McCain Tuesday night but didn't indicate whether the two mentioned Mr. McCain dropping out of the race.

"John is going to decide whether he's going to continue on it's his choice to do so," Mr. Bush said. "And then we'll resolve any differences we have at a later date."

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