Posted on March 02, 1992 in Washington Watch

Last week, Democrats and Republicans in Maine and South Dakota voted in primary elections and the results only added more confusion to the already confused 1992 presidential campaigns.

On the Democratic side:

In Maine, former California Governor Jerry Brown tied for first place with Paul Tsongas. In South Dakota, Senator Bob Kerrey from neighboring Nebraska won decisively over Senator Tom Harkin, whose state of Iowa also borders South Dakota.

The results after three weeks and four elections of Campaign ‘92 show four separate winners in four states, with Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, the supposed front-runner, having failed to win anywhere.

The campaign now moves to the South, where Clinton is expected to do well. But a South Dakota poll, showing 32% of South Dakota voters concerned about Clinton’s character (i.e., rumors about his “womanizing” and “draft-dodging”), has Clinton supporters worried.

On the Republican side:

President George Bush won both states easily since Buchanan was not on either ballot. But it must concern Republicans deeply that in South Dakota a very high 31% voted for “uncommitted”. This was widely interpreted as a protest against the President. In fact, South Dakota polls showed that two-thirds of this 31%, or a total of 20% of all Republican voters, said they would not vote for George Bush in November.

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As the ‘92 campaign moves into its next round with seven states holding elections this week, reporters are using words like “mean”, “blood-letting”, and “messy” to describe the ugly turn the campaign has taken.

In the first three weeks, all five Democrats and Buchanan attacked George Bush. Now they have turned their guns on each other and it is getting very messy indeed.

Bob Kerrey, fresh from his victory in South Dakota, flew to Georgia and attacked Bill Clinton for avoiding the Vietnam War and “not telling the truth about it.” Kerrey’s black supporters lashed out against Clinton for agreeing to the execution of a brain-injured black man in Arkansas who had killed a police officer. And one of Kerrey’s other supporters picked up on Clinton’s failure to serve in the military, saying, “We want a Commander in Chief, not a Chicken in Chief.”

Clinton struck out at Paul Tsongas’ pro-business economics and blasted Jesse Jackson for campaigning with (but not endorsing) Tom Harkin.

Tsongas returned the fire, saying he would no longer defend Clinton’s character, and he attacked fellow Democrats for being “fiscally irresponsible.”

Tom Harkin, who throughout the campaign has come under fire for being “mean”, turned up the heat and got even meaner.

Brown, for the most part, stayed on course and attacked all his opponents for practicing “big money politics as usual.” His protest campaign rejects the role of money in politics and is drawing the largest crowds—but outside of Maine, his vote totals have not increased.

George Bush finally focused on Buchanan’s challenge. An effective Bush television advertisement features retired Marine General P.X. Kelly chiding Buchanan for opposing the Gulf War and not supporting the U.S. military. The Bush campaign also sent out a team of highly respected pro-Administration conservatives who warned that support for Buchanan would reduce the chances of electing a Republican president in November.

One troubling stance, as far as Arab Americans are concerned, was Vice President Quayle’s charge that Buchanan’s view of Israel was very much like Jesse Jackson’s and should be rejected Buchanan isn’t a strong enough supporter of Israel.

Buchanan, not to be outdone, also got meaner. He threatened to deliver a “knockout punch” to Bush and dismissed Quayle’s counter-attack by saying: “We’re after the pit bull (meaning Bush) and they shouldn’t send in the pit puppy (Quayle) because he’ll get all chewed up.”

Buchanan continued his attack on Bush’s tax increase and added a new attack in the form of a television advertisement. The ad features clips from a film partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts—a federal agency—which shows naked black homosexuals and accuses George Bush of supporting “art that his glorified homosexuality, exploited children and perverted the image of Jesus Christ.”

In short, the campaign is getting mean and ugly indeed. Buchanan, who can’t win, can continue to “bleed” George Bush. But for the time being, at least, Bush will be spared attacks from the Democrats who are busy wounding each other.

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A final note. This is the week when Secretary of State Baker made his strong stand in Congress against unconditional loan guarantees to Israel. It is important to note that no Democratic candidate for President has as yet publicly challenged the Baker testimony on this issue. Support for Israel is at an all-time low and, while some candidates continue to make direct appeals to Jewish supporters, it now appears that they feel the current public mood will not tolerate any increase in aid to Israel. Challenges may come later, but for the moment al is quiet. This marks a significant change from past elections when the response would have been swift and certain.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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