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Buchanan Bolts GOP for Reform Party

October 25, 1999

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) _ Rallying followers to ``a new patriotism,″ lifelong Republican Pat Buchanan abandoned the GOP today to run for the Reform Party presidential nomination. ``Our vaunted two-party system has become a snare and a delusion, a fraud upon the nation,″ he said.

``Go, Pat, go,″ the crowd of at least 300 responded.

``Neither (party) fights with conviction and courage to rescue God’s country from the cultural and moral pit into which she has fallen,″ he said.

The repeat presidential contender lent a sense of last-ditch urgency to his transformed campaign. ``If we don’t ’Go now, Pat,‴ he said, trying to be heard over cheers in a suburban Washington hotel, ``every cause for which we have fought for seven years will die.″

``This year, I believe, is our last chance to save our republic before she disappears into a godless world order,″ he said.

In the language of a scrappy revolutionary, Buchanan promised to shake up the 2000 race .

``Let me say to the money boys and the Beltway elite, who think that at long last they have pulled up the drawbridge and locked us out forever, you don’t know this peasant army,″ Buchanan heckled. ``We have not yet begun to fight!″

In a nod to the Reform Party’s central issue, campaign finance reform, Buchanan sprinkled his speech with derisive references to money pulling the Democrats’ and Republicans’ strings. ``Both write laws with corporate lobbyists looking over their shoulder.″

The conservative commentator’s none-too-surprising announcement, which he’d hinted at for weeks and which was broadcast nationally on live television, was bedeviled at the start by a stubbornly faulty sound system.

``Who put G. Gordon Liddy in charge of the microphones,″ Buchanan cracked, drawing laughter from a crowd that responded with yells of ``Made in China!″ ``sabotage!″ and, ``a liberal plot!″

The pugnacious Buchanan, whose insurgent campaigns hobbled Republican front-runners in 1992 and 1996, said both parties appear to be leaning in this presidential election toward ``hollow men, the malleable men willing to read from TelePrompTers speeches scripted by consultants and pollsters.″

``Candidates with ideas need not apply,″ he said, singling out the U.S. trade deficit and engagement with China as key irritants to him and his followers.

He pledged not to involve America in a foreign war ``unless our country is attacked or our vital interests are imperiled.″

Calling for a ``new patriotism,″ Buchanan said: ``We’ll bring our soldiers home, where they belong and rebuild our military might and morale. The first step to restore that morale is to evict from the bully pulpit of the Oval Office our own Elmer Gantry, Mr. Clinton.″

In this accelerated election season, with key primaries crowded into the first few months of next year, Buchanan’s campaign never broke out of the single digits in polls, and he’s had trouble raising money.

Buchanan would not be assured of winning the nomination of the Reform Party and would be a longshot in the general election, although Democratic and Republican operatives say he could win enough votes to make a mark on the 2000 elections.

He began considering a third-party bid after Texas Gov. George W. Bush secured early dominance over GOP money, endorsements and poll ratings. A second-tier finish in an Iowa straw poll last August sealed his fate.

Buchanan complained the nomination was rigged in favor of Bush, whom he considers too moderate.

A potential rival, New York tycoon Donald Trump, was changing his party allegiance from Republican to Reform Party today. He called Buchanan ``a Hitler lover″ on Sunday, and said he would decide early next year whether to seek the White House.

It could be a crowded field.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the Reform Party’s highest-ranking elected official, appears to be reconsidering his promise not to seek the presidency in 2000.

``I know I should be the candidate. But what do I do? I’m between a rock and a hard place,″ he was quoted as saying in The New York Times magazine.

Reform Party founder Ross Perot has not ruled out a third presidential bid.

At stake is more than $12 million in federal money earmarked for the Reform nominee.

Republicans worry that Buchanan would siphon conservative voters from the eventual GOP nominee, and most polls substantiate their fears. Some surveys suggest, however, that Buchanan would attract as many Democrats as Republicans. In current polls, no more than one in 10 voters say they would support him.

Buchanan is the sixth person to quit the GOP race, leaving Bush and five others in the field.

He promised backers he would to fight ``without compromise″ against abortion, protect jobs against unfair trade, curb legal immigration, rebuild U.S. defenses, avoid foreign entanglements, outlaw unlimited ``soft money″ donations in politics and reform Social Security and Medicare.

It is largely the same platform that helped Buchanan win the New Hampshire primary in 1996 and put a scare into President Bush in 1992. Entitlement reform and campaign finance overhaul _ two Reform Party tenets _ are new to Buchanan’s stable of issues.

Buchanan, who said his campaign treasury is ``virtually empty,″ wrote loyalists last week seeking help to raise the $4 million to $6 million he said he will need to win the nomination.

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