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Dole Loses Two Rivals, Two Others Stay in the Hunt

March 6, 1996

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Bob Dole watched two GOP rivals fall by the wayside Wednesday but two more made it clear they weren’t ready to fall in line with the Kansas senator’s self-proclaimed ``mission to unify the Republican Party.″

The withdrawal of Lamar Alexander and Dick Lugar from the race prompted House Speaker Newt Gingrich to pronounce that ``Dole is nominated.″

But Pat Buchanan said he was in the race to stay, even if Dole’s nomination now ``appears inevitable.″ And publisher Steve Forbes vowed to press on as well, picking up the endorsement of former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp.

Dole, rolling off an eight-state sweep of primaries, obtained the endorsement of one George Bush and hoped for a kind word from another.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, son of the former president, put his support behind the Senate majority leader at a news conference on the lawn of the state capitol.

``Senator, you are made of steel and America needs your strength,″ Bush told Dole. Bush earlier had endorsed Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who dropped out of the race last month.

From Austin, Dole headed next to Houston and an audience with the former president _ who defeated him in the 1988 GOP primary. Aides said in advance that the former president would not endorse Dole at this point.

Gov. Bush echoed this view, telling reporters, ``My father made it clear he was going to leave endorsements to people like me.″

Of Buchanan’s indication that he would take his battle all the way to the GOP convention in San Diego in August, Dole said:

``He didn’t indicate he would support me but I hope he will.″

Dole also shrugged off Kemp’s decision to help Forbes, noting that Forbes and the former New York congressman were good friends.

``It won’t change my campaign, it might change Jack’s,″ Dole said without elaboration.

Looking ahead to Thursday’s primary in New York, Dole predicted victory and said, ``there are three of us in the race. I hope they do poorly.″

With 123 delegates at stake, Texas is the biggest prize in next week’s mostly southern ``Super Tuesday″ races, followed by Florida _ where Dole was headed later Wednesday. Jeb Bush, another Bush son and Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate in 1994, also endorsed Dole on Wednesday.

Of the Texas governor’s endorsement, Dole said, ``This endorsement means a great deal to me. ... It’s the icing on the cake.″

Asked whether he would participate in a planned debate in Texas on Friday with the field now so winnowed, Dole said, ``That decision is pending.″ However, a trip back to Texas for the event was not on Dole’s schedule.

Dole held a 2-to-1 lead over his closest rival in a Texas poll released Wednesday. Among likely Republican primary voters, Dole was supported by 45 percent, Buchanan by 20 percent, Alexander 10 percent and Forbes 9 percent. The survey was conducted by the Office of Survey Research of the University of Texas for Harte-Hanks Communications Inc.

Dole was asked about exit polls suggesting many of those who voted on Tuesday would have preferred a different candidate.

He said that voters often want more choices than they are given. But, he declared, ``I think the field is pretty set.″

Dole and the former president crossed swords in 1988 when Bush won in New Hampshire, partly with ads calling Dole ``Senator Straddle″ and suggesting he favored tax increases.

Dole bore some animosity toward Bush for a while, but later closed ranks and worked hard in defending Bush administration policies in the Senate.

At the news conference at the state capitol, Dole said he hoped Buchanan would wind up supporting him. Asked about Buchanan’s talk of going to the convention anyway, Dole cracked, ``If you don’t have any delegates when you get to San Diego why make the trip?″

Still buoyed by Tuesday’s victories, Dole said, ``My mission and our mission is to unify the Republican Party and close ranks.″ He said it was time to confront ``the real target _ Bill Clinton.″

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