- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000

CONCORD, N.H. While many pollsters predict a victory for Sen. John McCain today in the nation's first primary here, unless he wins big, the Arizona senator won't get the bounce he needs to defeat Gov. George W. Bush in the South Carolina primary Feb. 19, Republican analysts say.
And if Mr. McCain doesn't win South Carolina, then the nomination contest is all over but the shouting Mr. Bush will be on his way to becoming the Republicans' standard bearer for 2000.
"If McCain only comes close here either close win or close loss he's toast," said Iowa Republican Party Chairman Kayne Robinson, a neutral in the contest who attended a McCain rally here yesterday.
New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Steve Duprey, also neutral in the contest, said Mr. Robinson "may well be right, because the McCain forces' whole strategy is that they've got to win South Carolina, and what gets them the opportunity to close the 18-point gap [in the polls] in South Carolina is an upset here."
Mr. Duprey thought for a moment, pulled his half-zippered ski jacket closer together at the neck and said, "Actually, I'm being charitable in saying a close win here might keep McCain alive. Let's put it this way: Bush with a close win in New Hampshire is fine. McCain with a close loss in New Hampshire is in deep trouble."
But Mr. McCain's top lieutenants yesterday expressed confidence he will win here and in South Carolina the two contests on which he has staked his campaign.
"We're going to beat George Bush among Republicans and do very well among independents," McCain campaign adviser John Maxwell said as his candidate was winding up an address to about 500 people outside the state Capitol here yesterday.
On a street corner across from the Capitol where the McCain rally was about to commence, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat and supporter of Vice President Al Gore's in the Democratic primary, said, "I think McCain has to win and win fairly well here in order to give him the opening to keep going."
"If McCain loses here, I just don't see that he'll be able to go on anywhere," Mr. Harkin told The Washington Times. "If he wins by a point or two, he'll be able to stay in for South Carolina and maybe one or two other [contests]. But if he wins by 5 to 10 [percentage] points, oh, man, that gives him a heck of a boost."
Republican pollster Frank Luntz said yesterday he thinks Mr. McCain will win today but says the "real contest" is between Mr. McCain and Democrat Bill Bradley for the independent voters.
However, the McCain team yesterday sought to minimize the importance of independents because Mr. Bush's operatives have been arguing that Mr. McCain has alienated average Republicans with his stands on taxes and campaign finance reform.
But Mr. Luntz yesterday said Mr. McCain, regardless of whether he wins New Hampshire, has already lost an issues battle that matters dearly to Republicans.
"Even if Bush doesn't win, the tax-cut issue worked," Mr. Luntz said. "It shows that within the Republican electorate, not only are taxes important, but Republicans in New Hampshire backed Bush's tax-cut proposals over McCain's.
"The big problem is that the rhetoric John McCain used to describe tax cuts is the same rhetoric that Al Gore used to describe Republicans," Mr. Luntz added. "And it's scary to me when Republican rhetoric comes from the Democratic Party."
At his Capitol rally, Mr. McCain told the crowd his New Hampshire success would "send a message to America and the world that the American people want someone who is fully prepared to be president of the United States and needs no on-the-job training."
A victory for him also would show that voters "want to get the government out of the hands of the special interests and big money and the corruption that characterized the 1996 campaign by Clinton and Gore," Mr. McCain said.

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