- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2000

Both the Democratic and Republican parties held important primaries Tuesday, and the results were extremely important for both presidential races.

For weeks now, Arizona Sen. John McCain has been identifying himself as "a proud Reagan conservative." But virtually every time Republicans who vote in their party's primaries consider the presidential candidacy of Mr. McCain, they overwhelmingly reject him in favor of Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Tuesday's GOP primaries in Virginia, North Dakota and Washington were no exceptions. In Virginia, an open primary state where Mr. McCain had the opportunity to duplicate his victories in New Hampshire and Michigan by attracting independents and Democrats, Mr. Bush soundly defeated him, 53 percent to 44 percent. Among self-identified Republicans, Mr. Bush trounced Mr. McCain 68 percent to 29 percent. Among self-professed conservatives, Mr. Bush out-polled his opponent by nearly 3-to-1. In North Dakota, Mr. Bush smashed the senator by 76 percent to 19 percent. In Washington, an open-primary state thought to be very susceptible to Mr. McCain's "insurgent" candidacy, Mr. Bush suppressed the revolution by 20 points among self-identified Republicans.

Tuesday's results demonstrated that a clear pattern has emerged in the GOP contest. With the exception of the voters in his home state, the Arizona senator has yet to capture majority support among Republicans or conservatives in any GOP contest. Mr. McCain recorded the following meager levels of support among Republicans: Michigan (29 percent); South Carolina (26 percent); Delaware (20 percent); New Hampshire (37 percent). Ditto for self-identified conservatives, including religious conservatives.

It's easy to understand why Mr. McCain, unlike George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, has failed to light a fire among Republicans. Messrs. Reagan and Bush were determined to reduce the nation's tax burden substantially. Mr. Reagan succeeded. Mr. Bush has proposed a five-year, $483 billion tax cut. In contrast, Mr. McCain has, in effect, proposed to increase taxes. On the hustings, he hawks his five-year, $237 billion tax-cut proposal, but read Mr. McCain's fine print, and you discover he wants to raise other taxes by $151 billion by canceling what he perceives to be "loopholes." Then, add in the more than $20 billion in average annual cigarette taxes ($1.10 per pack) that Mr. McCain wants to impose, and suddenly his tax-cut plan morphs into a tax increase. In addition, Mr. McCain has aggressively adopted the class-warfare tactics and rhetoric that Democrats have relentlessly used since 1980 to pillory tax-cut plans of the sort proposed by President Reagan and Gov. Bush.

Unlike Mr. Reagan, who welcomed religious conservatives into the Republican Party, Mr. McCain seems determined to drive many of them out. Twenty years ago, it's worth recalling, Mr. Reagan attended a Dallas convention of evangelical preachers, telling them, "I know you can't endorse me, but I endorse you." Mr. McCain's lurch to the left on taxes and his intemperate attack upon a very important constituency of the Reagan coalition go a long way toward explaining why Republicans have expressed little enthusiasm for his message.

Democrats also held an important, though non-binding, primary in Washington state on Tuesday. The primary was important because the struggling campaign of Bill Bradley said it was. Mr. Bradley did so by spending an unprecedented five days aggressively campaigning in Washington, all for naught. Vice President Al Gore clobbered Mr. Bradley in a state that was believed to offer Mr. Bradley's sagging campaign the best chance to reverse course. Given Mr. Bradley's defiant declaration in defeat "This race has just begun!" it isn't at all clear that he realizes the Democratic race is now over. Maybe he isn't so cerebral, after all. Sounds like his next career ought to be in academia, where being in touch with reality never was a career stopper.

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