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How Many Votes Does Bush Need to Stop Buchanan? Can Buchanan Embarrass Bush?

February 7, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said late last year that he would consider a 51 percent win over Patrick Buchanan in New Hampshire a victory - not a satisfying one, but a victory.

Don’t believe it. Such a narrow margin would worry the president and stun Buchanan.

Neither team seriously expects Bush to do so poorly.

But what margin does he need to claim a convincing victory? And with what percentage can Buchanan claim a satisfying showing?

Both Bush and Buchanan camps publicly refuse to play the numbers game. Meanwhile, both campaigns are overstating the rivals’ chances - a strategy that will help them save face later.

″Now he is far, far ahead, but there are enough undecided, enough Buchanan voters I think, and enough soft Bush voters to make this a tremendously dramatic contest on the 18th of February,″ Buchanan says.

″George Bush will have a tough time in New Hampshire for a while, but it will move on,″ said Rich Bond, Bush’s new handpicked chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Other GOP frontrunners have drawn challengers in New Hampshire and gone on to satisfying victories.

In 1972, Richard Nixon had challengers that got 32 percent; In 1984, Ronald Reagan’s challengers came away with 14 percent. Neither showing prevented Nixon and Reagan’s landslide wins in November.

Bush aides are privately suggesting that a Buchanan vote of up to 35 percent won’t be damaging. And Buchanan’s camp is suggesting that anything over 20 percent will be a symbolic victory.

Both sides suggest a Buchanan vote over 40 percent would throw the Bush campaign off stride and damage the Bush campaign, while a Buchanan showing of 20 percent or less would probably signal it’s time for the commentator to reassess.

A Boston Herald-WCVB-TV poll of 404 likely Republican New Hampshire voters last week showed Bush ahead 59 percent to 28 percent. The University of New Hampshire Survey Center conducted a poll for WMUR-TV in which Bush led 60 percent to 23 percent among 499 likely GOP voters.

Nixon, for whom Buchanan worked as a White House speechwriter, puts Buchanan’s margin at 28 percent.

Pollster John Martilla of Boston predicts Bush will win ″by a two-to-one margin,″ about 65 to 35.

If Bush can hold Buchanan to 35 points or less ″that’s a landslide,″ he said. If Buchanan gets over 35 percent ″that’s much trickier,″ he said.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart, noting that New Hampshire voters tend to change their minds, said ″if Buchanan breaks 30, I think he’s still in the ballgame. If he breaks 40, the president is clearly wounded. If he’s under 30, Buchanan has a big uphill struggle.″

Candice Nelson, director of American University’s Campaign Management Institute, predicts that Buchanan will only get between 20 percent and 30 percent of the New Hampshire vote.

″Even that’s a lot against an incumbent president,″ Ms. Nelson said. ″If Buchanan gets more than 30 percent, it’s going to mean something″ in terms of jolting Bush.

But still, she said, ″Buchanan’s not going anywhere.″ Even a strong New Hampshire showing ″won’t have any bounce for him,″ she said.

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