- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2000

MANCHESTER, N.H. The New Hampshire primary is a make-or-break election for John McCain and Steve Forbes and has resulted in some behind-the-scenes alliances among the five Republicans in the contest.

"A number of symbiotic relationships have developed here in New Hampshire," Steve Duprey, New Hampshire Republican Party chairman, said yesterday.

One alliance, which became evident at a recent event here, is between Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who won the Iowa caucuses by the largest plurality ever, and former U.N. diplomat and moral-issues crusader Alan Keyes, who placed a strong and surprising third behind Mr. Forbes, the magazine publisher.

An endorsement of Mr. Bush by Mr. Keyes at some point would not surprise top Republican Party officials, who said it would help unite party regulars and social and economic conservatives behind Mr. Bush.

"Keyes and Bush are cooperating a lot," said a New Hampshire Republican Party official with close ties to the Bush campaign. "Every vote Keyes gets comes from Forbes. If Steve doesn't place a real close third here on Tuesday, there will be enormous pressure from Republicans on Steve to give it up."

By the same token, the official said: "Gary Bauer is very friendly with John McCain. Some of the votes Bauer gets pull away more from Bush than McCain."

Mr. Bauer yesterday acknowledged a "close friendship," but added: "I don't have an issues alliance with Sen. McCain, other than on campaign finance reform." He said their wives had become friends.

Mr. Duprey said there is nothing immoral about a campaign steering supporters to donate to a rival who is not a threat and can be helpful in sapping votes from another rival who is a threat.

"My sense in New Hampshire is that every vote Keyes gets probably is a vote taken away from Forbes, who has the resources and has built a powerful organization in a number of states and is going to stay in this race," said Mr. Duprey.

A Republican Party official with friends working in several of the competing campaigns said, "The Forbes people were shocked that Keyes did so well in Iowa."

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Kayne Robinson, who flew here yesterday, said of the Bush-Keyes bond: "It shows pretty smart maneuvering on the part of Bush and [campaign strategist] Karl Rove. It's a pretty good alliance, and some expect an endorsement" of Mr. Bush by Mr. Keyes.

"If Forbes come in distant third or fourth, a lot of people are saying they don't care how much money Forbes has, it's time for him to get out," Mr. Duprey said.

As for Mr. McCain, "If he doesn't win decisively in New Hampshire, he's toast," Mr. Duprey said. "If he loses, he's toast and if he wins by a small margin, then it's just a mater of time. It goes onto another state or two and it's over."

The first public display of the Bush-Keyes entente came at the Lincoln Day dinner for Republican Party officials Friday night. When Mr. Bush went to the podium to address the group, he looked directly at Mr. Keyes, gave him a big smile and a double thumbs-up sign.

Mr. Bush said one of the great "experiences for me is getting to know Alan Keyes. He is articulate, he's smart and I appreciate" what he is doing. "He and I have something in common we both have great wives and great families."

On finishing his address, Mr. Bush strode directly to Mr. Keyes and the two embraced. Mr. Bush kissed Mr. Keyes on the cheek, then began greeting other people in the room.

Earlier that evening, a reporter had informed Mr. Keyes that a John Zogby tracking poll of likely voters in New Hampshire showed that Mr. Keyes was leading among voters who had identified themselves as "very conservative."

Until then, Mr. Bush had held the lead among those voters, helping him to narrow the gap with Mr. McCain, the front-runner in virtually all polls of New Hampshire voters.

Mr. Keyes, fresh from his surprising third-place finish in Iowa, was ebullient until he heard about the Zogby poll.

"Who does that hurt Forbes or Bush?" Mr. Keyes asked. When told that, according to Mr. Zogby, it hurt Mr. Bush's chances of overtaking Mr. McCain, Mr. Keyes' eyes darkened and his smile turned into a frown.

Several Republicans speculated that Mr. Bush wants to keep Mr. Keyes in the nomination contest as long as possible, well past the New Hampshire primary, in order to sap support from Mr. Forbes.

"Bush wants Keyes to stay in so that he keeps taking conservative votes from Forbes," said Anna Barbara Hantz, a lawyer and Republican loyalist who was at the dinner. "If Gary Bauer and Keyes drop out, where do their votes go? Too many of them go to Forbes. They aren't going to roll over and go to Bush, because he's not there [ideologically]."

Mr. Forbes is financing his nomination campaign with his own considerable wealth, and can outlast Mr. McCain, who has raised far less money than Mr. Bush.

Mr. Keyes' effort to win the Republican nomination previously was woefully underfinanced and had little organization. But now he is able to afford to run well-executed TV spots on New Hampshire television, financed by many small donations, he says.

The unreported Bush-Keyes bond goes back to the Iowa caucuses. "It was noticeable that there was no acrimony between Keyes and Bush in Iowa," said Mr. Robinson. "Keyes had a organization that obviously didn't have a lot of money to spend but suddenly had some high-quality [TV] advertising at the end.

"It shows Bush is pretty smart and is putting together an alliance with someone who has tremendous utility in this contest," said Mr. Robinson. "Virtually all Republicans are saying Keyes was one of the best in the debates and should be used in the general election."

Yesterday, Mr. Zogby told The Washington Times that Mr. Bush had retaken the lead among the crucial conservative voters here. "Keyes is sliding a little and Bush is back on top among very conservative voters," Mr. Zogby said.

"This group makes it or breaks it for Bush, plus his organization's ability to get vote out," Mr. Zogby said.

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