- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2000

NASHUA, N.H. Sen. John McCain scored a smashing victory in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary last night, giving a lifesaving boost to his long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

On the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore appeared to have blunted an aggressive challenge by Bill Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey. Mr. Gore led Mr. Bradley 52 percent to 47 percent with 96 percent of the precincts reporting.

The size of the McCain victory was impressive, though Republican professionals regard the senator's chances of winning the nomination as still small.

With 96 percent of precincts reporting, the Arizonan led Gov. George W. Bush of Texas by 18 percentage points, 49 percent to 31 percent.

"We have sent a powerful message to Washington that change is coming," Mr. McCain told a raucous victory rally in Nashua. "This is a good thing… . It is the beginning of end of truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore."

Mr. Bush conceded quickly, but sounded a defiant note.

"New Hampshire has long been known as a bump in the road to front-runners, and this year is no exception," Mr. Bush said 20 minutes after the last polls closed. "The road to the Republican nomination and the White House is a long road. We're going through all 50 states. I intend it to end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

The verdict in New Hampshire, even when impressive, has not always augured well for winners. Bill Clinton finished behind Paul Tsongas here in 1992, and in 1964, Henry Cabot Lodge won a smashing victory over Barry Goldwater in the Republican primary by a margin of 3-to-1.

Mr. Goldwater eventually won the nomination, and when the vote was taken at the national convention, Mr. Lodge, the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, finished behind an obscure senator from Hawaii named Hiram Fong.

For his part, Mr. Bush joined a list of national front-runners tarnished in New Hampshire. Republican Bob Dole lost the state in 1996 but won the nomination; Democrat Walter F. Mondale was ambushed but recovered in 1984. Mr. Bush's father, George Bush, was twice embarrassed, in 1980, when he lost after winning the Iowa caucuses, and again in 1992, when as president, he had to fend off Pat Buchanan in a closer-than-expected contest.

On the Democratic side, an exuberant Mr. Gore told supporters "we have just begun to fight.

"We are going to march all the way down the field, state to state, coast to coast, to victory in November," he said.

He took a swipe at his rival, and Mr. Bradley's cerebral campaigning style, saying he offered "specific plans" rather than "lofty words."

Mr. Bradley did not concede the race, instead delivering a ringing challenge to Mr. Gore.

This election is a battle between "the old politics of rancor and divisiveness, or grandiose and unfulfilled promises, and the new politics," he said.

He gave no sign that his second straight defeat at the hands of the vice president would lead him to drop out.

"There is still a tough fight ahead … we are stronger and better prepared and eager" to go on, he told supporters about an hour after the polls closed.

The huge margin on the Republican side was a surprise to Mr. McCain's staff, who had been predicting a close race. Some polls in the final days of the campaign put Mr. McCain 12 points ahead; others had given Mr. Bush a slight lead in the race.

Mr. McCain ignored the Iowa caucuses in January and focused most of his time and money on New Hampshire and South Carolina. A significant loss in either state would mean the likely end to his candidacy.

"This has been single elimination for us all along," McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky said as voters headed to the polls and the campaign was predicting a narrow victory. "It's double elimination for [Mr. Bush], and he's lost his first game."

"The coronation is off," said Rep. Lindsey Graham, chairman of Mr. McCain's campaign in South Carolina. "The comparison shopping begins in South Carolina."

Magazine publisher Steve Forbes, who placed a strong second to Mr. Bush in last month's Iowa caucuses, placed a distant third in the race, with 13 percent in early returns.

Despite his poor showing, Mr. Forbes pledged to go on. He has set his sights on Delaware, which holds its primary next week.

"The battle for the soul of the Republican Party has begun," he told reporters.

Former ambassador Alan Keyes was fourth with 6 percent. Mr. Keyes prayed with his supporters, but gave no indication of his plans in the wake of his poor showing.

Gary Bauer's campaign appeared doomed last night, receiving 1 percent from early precincts.

New Hampshire voters "did not endorse me, but I without reservation endorse them as great citizens," Mr. Bauer said. Earlier in the day, he told reporters, "I am a fighter, but I'm not not delusional."

The day got off to a poor start for Mr. McCain, as residents in tiny Dixville Notch gave Mr. Bush a 12-votes-to-10 victory. The small town, with 29 registered voters, has a 40-year tradition of voting at midnight, making it the first place in the nation to vote for presidential nominees.

Since 1968, every time the Republican nominee has won first in Dixville Notch, he has gone on to win the presidency.

Mr. Bradley won Dixville Notch 4-2.

The second precinct to report, known as Hart's Location, gave Mr. McCain a 9-5 victory over Mr. Bush. Elizabeth Dole, who dropped out of the race last year, received 2 votes.

Mr. Bradley won in Hart's Location 9-3.

There was no clear front-runner on either side going into yesterday's contest, with polls showing wild fluctuations in both parties. The Republican contest was particularly volatile, with polls showing anything from a 5-percentage point lead by Mr. Bush to a 12-point lead by Mr. McCain.

Polls varied so widely in part because there was no way to predict how many independent voters, the most volatile segment of the electorate, would turn out yesterday.

The huge turnout was probably helped by the spirited campaign on both sides and by the sunny and relatively warm weather. The sun finally shone yesterday in New Hampshire after a week of cold and snow.

The candidates of both parties waged aggressive campaigns in the final days.

In the Republican contest, Mr. Bush accused Mr. McCain of being too much like the Democrats, since he had proposed a tax cut smaller than Mr. Clinton.

Mr. McCain, meanwhile, derided Mr. Bush as a member of the same Republican establishment that lost elections in 1992 and 1996.

But the race never took on the bitter edge that developed on the Democratic side, where Mr. Bradley openly questioned Mr. Gore's honesty. The Gore camp accused Mr. Bradley of being a "phony dollar bill."

"We are all on the same side," Mr. Bush told New England Cable News as voters headed to the polls. "My job as the nominee of this party will be to unite the party. I've been in politics long enough to know the difference between policy differences and personal differences. I respect John McCain, I hope he respects me."

Mr. McCain has raised less than a third of what Mr. Bush has raised, but staffers said they are "funded to go" in South Carolina.

The candidates left New Hampshire almost immediately, headed to the next battleground for their respective parties.

Mr. Bradley and Mr. Gore left for campaign swings in New York and California, which vote March 7, the next major Democratic test.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush will campaign today in South Carolina, the next major Republican test and the first Southern primary. Mr. Bush will campaign in tiny Delaware, the site of the next Republican contest, but Mr. McCain will not.

"I believe if we can be within 15 points of George W. after New Hampshire. I think we can close a 15 point gap in 19 days," said Richard Quinn, a South Carolina consultant to Mr. McCain, last month.

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