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Buchanan Supporters Talk Protest as Candidate Presses on to Tennessee

March 7, 1996

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Their hero deflated by a string of defeats, Pat Buchanan’s people still come out in raucous hundreds to hear him. They still punctuate his fiery stump speech with shouted ``Amens″ and ``Pat, You the Man.″

But like ``the Man,″ these loyalists are now talking more about Buchanan as a protest candidate than a potential president.

Buchanan pressed ahead in his quest for those voters in Tennessee today, and one speech was interrupted by a supporter yelling, ``Don’t support the nominee, Pat, don’t support him. We’re not going back.″

Buchanan answered with a pledge: ``This is what we’re going to do. We go to San Diego, we break the doors open to this party and we take it over.″

Buchanan is seeking support for the GOP convention in San Diego from Christian conservatives who might have voted for native son Lamar Alexander. The former Tennessee governor dropped out of the race Wednesday.

``I am the only the conservative in the race who can win. And this is a good conservative state,″ Buchanan said. ``... We are going to get some of Lamar’s votes, I think, from people who want a change and want dynamic, energetic new leadership.″

Buchanan continued to target blue collar workers.

``What we are doing is preaching the politics of hope to people who are fearful because they are losing jobs,″ Buchanan said. ``They are seeing their real incomes go down. Middle-class families are overtaxed. They want someone to give them some answers ...″

That message resonated among his Florida supporters on Wednesday. ``We know now the Republican establishment and liberal establishment media are not going to let Pat win,″ said dentist Dan Williams, one of at least 400 supporters at a noisy rally in Orlando, Fla., the day after Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole swept eight states primaries and left Buchanan in a distant second place.

At a midday event in Tampa, another 300 or 400 supporters sweltered beneath a white Big Top for almost an hour as Buchanan held court.

Williams and his wife Christine, most concerned about America’s ``lost sovereignty,″ still planned to vote for Buchanan in next Tuesday’s Florida primary even if they were throwaway votes.

``He has to keep on running to wake up as many people as he possibly can,″ said Mrs. Williams. ``We have already thrown our country away and it’s time we started getting it back.″

Run he will. Buchanan left no doubt about that.

``We’re going to fight until hell freezes over and then we’re going to fight on the ice,″ he told the Orlando rally.

What exactly he would fight for was less clear. The core of Buchanan’s stump speech is unchanged since he came out of New Hampshire a winner last month. He still talks about what he will do when he takes over the White House _ no more North American Free Trade Agreement deals, no more bowing to the United Nations or the World Trade Organization.

But now, talk about actually winning the nomination has turned downbeat.

``It would take a great break somewhere and a sudden explosion for us to be the nominee. We don’t see that right now,″ he told reporters Wednesday as he began a day of hop scotching across Florida by plane.

He said the race has become ``about more than me″ and he pledged to lead a movement of blue-collar workers and Christian conservatives to change the Republican party at its national convention.

``We’re going to fight all the way to San Diego and create the kind of Republican party we think is the party of the future ... . We’re going to write their platform,″ Buchanan said.

``What other choice does he have?″ shrugged Regina Ernst, a Brandon housewife. She and her mother, Regina Olszewski agreed Buchanan’s shot at the nomination was probably sunk by Dole’s newfound momentum. But both were planning to vote for Buchanan anyway.

``I like his principles and, if for nothing else, it’s a protest vote against Dole and the establishment,″ said Olszewski. ``That’s better than nothing. We don’t want to quit.″

Buchanan had all but conceded today’s primary in New York, sticking instead to a Sun Belt strategy, with today’s bus tour of Tennessee followed by two days of campaigning in Texas _ ``the next big battleground.″ Those two states, plus Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Oregon together parcel out 362 convention delegates next Tuesday.