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Anatomy of a Dole Landslide

March 27, 1996

Bob Dole crushed Pat Buchanan in California’s Republican primary Tuesday even among voters who said Dole doesn’t have new ideas, worry that he’s too old and don’t think he can beat President Clinton in the fall.

In California and in Washington state, Dole swept his only remaining major rival in nearly every category in exit polls. Washington voters, however, were a little less likely to support Dole if they expressed concern about his age _ 72 _ or his electability.

In California, Buchanan beat Dole only among the one in 10 voters who said abortion was the issue that mattered most in their vote.

But only about three in 10 California GOP voters agreed with the strong anti-abortion positions that Buchanan has vowed to fight for at the party convention in San Diego in August.

Just 32 percent of 1,781 California voters surveyed said the Republican party platform should support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. Among more than 43,000 voters surveyed in 27 previous contests in the GOP nomination fight, 40 percent supported an anti-abortion plank.

And only three in 10 California GOP voters said Dole should pick a running mate who opposes legal abortion; as many said he should choose someone who supports legal abortion, and nearly four in 10 said the vice president’s position on abortion doesn’t matter.

The exit polls were conducted by Voter News Service, a partnership of The Associated Press, ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC. The California poll’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The survey of 616 voters across Washington had an error margin of plus or minus 5.5 points.

Anti-abortion sentiment was slightly higher among the Washington electorate, where four in 10 favored a platform plank banning the procedure and a similar percentage said the GOP vice presidential nominee should oppose legal abortion.

Yet Dole got at least half the vote in both states among the abortion foes and among the nearly roughly one in four in California and one in three in Washington who described themselves as part of the conservative Christian political movement. The religious right had been a cornerstone of strong Buchanan showings in the earliest 1996 GOP presidential contests.

Other former areas of Buchanan strength where Dole won easily Tuesday:

_ Voters who called themselves very conservative _ 20 percent in California and 30 percent in Washington;

_ self-described independents and those who say they voted for Ross Perot for president in 1992;

_ those who say U.S. trade with foreign countries costs their state jobs.

On immigration, another prominent Buchanan issue, half of California voters said the United States should always welcome some immigrants. Four in 10 agreed with Buchanan that the country can’t afford any new immigrants.

``Shut the borders down. We need to limit what we’ve got coming into the country,″ said Gene Gregorski, a Fresno insurance agent. Yet after toying with supporting Buchanan, Gregorski voted for Dole on a ``gut feeling.″

And the exit polls found that Dole won support from two-thirds of immigration foes in California and Washington.

In Washington, which doesn’t have the illegal-immigration problems that California faces, nearly two-thirds said the United States always should welcome some immigrants.

In both states, at least half said affirmative action programs should be scrapped entirely. Three in 10 said they should be changed and barely one in 10 said they should be left as they are.

Six in 10 California voters said Dole would beat Clinton, and even among those who disagreed, Dole beat Buchanan with nearly half the vote. Seven in 10 would support Dole if Buchanan ran as an independent but one quarter would rather vote for Clinton or Buchanan.

Longtime Republican Judith Markus, 55, of Fresno, said she voted for Dole on Tuesday. ``I think out of the group, he’s probably the most qualified,″ she said. But she planned to vote for Clinton in the fall, saying, ``He’s really done an outstanding job.″

Also in California, a quarter of Dole voters said his experience in Washington mattered most to them; a fifth said the top quality in their candidate was that he can beat Clinton.

Four in 10 Buchanan backers said the top candidate quality was that ``he stands up for what he believes in,″ although even on that score he ran no better than tied with Dole.

``I don’t agree with everything Pat has to say, but at least you know where he stands. He’s not out there pandering to the masses like the rest of them,″ said Buchanan voter Dennis Manuzak, 39, of Seattle.

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