- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2000

George W. Bush's win in Iowa will give him the momentum he needs to quickly finish off John McCain if not next week in New Hampshire, then in the Feb. 19 primary in South Carolina, Bush strategists said last night.
"After New Hampshire, it looks pretty clear for us. It's hard to find a state where McCain is ahead of us in any of the polls except for his own state of Arizona, and we're close even there," said a top Bush adviser.
Mr. Bush holds a 51-29 percent lead in the South Carolina polls over the Arizona senator.
But Steve Forbes' stronger-than-expected showing could produce a much more competitive three-way contest in New Hampshire next Tuesday between Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain, who remains slightly ahead of him in the polls there.
"We vastly defeated the polls and have emerged as the conservative candidate," Mr. Forbes said. ""So we've got a big boost going into New Hampshire."
Various polls showed Mr. McCain running anywhere from 3 to 10 points ahead of Mr. Bush in New Hampshire, with Mr. Forbes running a distant third.
Meantime, Vice President Al Gore's victory yesterday over his only challenger, Bill Bradley, was expected to send a strong signal to party regulars around the country that his campaign had overcome its earlier weakness and disorganization in the face of a strong challenge from the former New Jersey senator.
Mr. Bradley had not planned to devote much of his time to Iowa, but changed his mind last month as his polls shot up there and he seemed to be close to overtaking the vice president in the critical first caucus state.
But Mr. Gore seemed to find his footing last month after he made a number of changes in his campaign strategy and began pummeling Mr. Bradley over his universal health care plan and other initiatives that he said were too risky and endangered bread-and-butter Democratic programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
A daring decision to move his campaign organization out of Washington to hishome state of Tennessee, and a string of endorsements from big labor, the teachers unions and the party's political establishment helped get Gore's initially shaky campaign back on track.
After running behind Mr. Bradley for months in New Hampshire, Mr. Gore has moved back into first place there with a substantial 56-28 percent lead in the latest polls last week.
"If he wins in Iowa and then in New Hampshire, there will be this piling on effect in the party. Democrats will want to be with the winner," said Terry Michael, a veteran Democratic Party adviser.
While Mr. Bradley has shown continued strength in several key Northeastern states, including New York, where he was a basketball star with the New York Knicks before he entered politics, Mr. Gore remains strong in the South, the border states and in major electoral powerhouses like California.
"Gore has a 2-to-1 lead here in California," said Garry South, a political adviser to Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and a key Gore strategist in the state.
For months, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore have held substantial leads over all of their rivals in the national polls and have been the presumptive favorites for their parties' nomination.
Yet in many respects, both men have had obstacles that seemed to parallel each other. Both faced rivals that seemed to pose no serious challenge to them in Iowa but who were putting up a good fight in New Hampshire because of their appeal to independents who can vote in either party primary.
As for Mr. Bush, he campaigned in Iowa as a traditional Republican conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan, touting his across-the-board tax rate cuts, calls for a beefed up defense posture and an anti-missile system, school-choice vouchers for kids in failing schools, and restoring dignity to a presidency that has been engulfed by scandal and impeachment.
Mr. Bush's only other rivals, Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch have doggedly challenged Mr. Bush's conservative credentials throughout the pre-primary debates but they, like Mr. Forbes, have failed to lift their candidacies out of the single digits in any national polls.

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