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Robertson Crusade at Campaign Crossroads

March 4, 1988

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Pat Robertson’s quest for the Republican presidential nomination - as much a crusade as a political campaign - is approaching its Southern crossroads.

Robertson still hasn’t shown he can win a primary election, but he has been predicting he will do so in his native South. The region’s contests kick off with the South Carolina primary Saturday, followed three days later by Super Tuesday.

The former television evangelist’s rhetoric is filled with references to morality, religion and patriotism. His campaign song is titled ″For God and Country″ and he calls for the nation’s return to ″the bedrock of faith in God.″

″Government doesn’t give us our freedom,″ he said at a rally Monday night in Miami. ″It is a gift of God given every one of us.″

Robertson’s enemies are communists, congressmen who vote against aid to Nicaraguan Contra rebels and Supreme Court justices who won’t permit prayer in public schools.

Although the son of a U.S. senator, Robertson has never held public office and stresses he is running as an outsider against the political establishment.

″I want you to know I am not a politician. Nobody has any hooks in me,″ he told about 1,000 wildly cheering supporters at a rally here Tuesday night. ″I am free to serve God as my conscience dictates.″

Yet his political organization has won the grudging admiration of opposing campaign officials, turning out large crowds of enthusiastic supporters and giving him some impressive showings in caucus states.

″This is the big one for me,″ Robertson said of South Carolina after coming in last in the New Hampshire primary.

He has acknowledged his campaign will be in trouble if he loses South Carolina, which appears made to order for his God-and-country message. The state is conservative, rooted in the Bible Belt and has crossover voting that will permit Democrats to cast ballots in the Republican primary.

However, a new Washington Post poll today indicated that Robertson was far behind in the state. The poll, of 1,000 likely Republican voters, showed Vice President George Bush with the support of 49 percent, Sen. Bob Dole with 26 percent and Robertson with 14 percent.

The Post survey said that even among voters who said they watch television evangelists almost every week, Bush got 44 percent to Robertson’s 27 percent.

Robertson’s campaign may still be in trouble even if he wins South Carolina.

In Florida and Texas, the two biggest prizes of Super Tuesday, public opinion polls show him a poor third to Bush and Dole.

Robertson also has been dogged by questions about some of his public statements during the past couple weeks - including accusing the Bush campaign of leaking information about evangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s sexual indiscretions in an attempt to smear him by association.

Robertson also has revived a claim that there are Soviet missiles in Cuba, despite denials from the Reagan administration. He raised eyebrows with a contention that his Christian TV network knew of the whereabouts of U.S. hostages in Lebanon.

And he is trying to drop a $35 million libel suit against former U.S. Rep. Paul McCloskey, R-Calif., in the wake of a federal judge’s refusal to delay the Super Tuesday trial date in Washington. McCloskey, an ex-Marine who had been on the same troop ship with Robertson during the Korean War, had written a letter alleging Robertson avoided combat duty in Korea through his father’s political influence.

Robertson made a swing through Florida on Monday and Tuesday, concentrating heavily on wooing Miami’s Cuban-American voters by repeating the Cuban missile claim and pledging to support the exiles’ ″right of belligerence,″ although he acknowledged later that he could do so only within the constraints of U.S. law.

About 800 people, mostly Hispanic, turned out at a Miami rally, a disappointment because Robertson campaign staffers had been predicting nearly twice as many would attend. But his crowds generally have been bigger than those of other presidential candidates.

In Orlando, some supporters held up signs indicating they had come from towns miles away. In interviews, several of his Orlando supporters said they had watched Robertson for years on his ″700 Club″ program and Christian Broadcasting Network.

″The reason I say we need Pat ... we’ve got to have the Christian principles that our forefathers founded this nation with,″ said Clair Baker, an electronics worker from Clermont. ″We’ve got to get back to that or we’re all down the tubes.″

Former Florida Republican Chairman Tommy Thomas, who was President Reagan’s state campaign chairman and now is active in the Bush camp, conceded Robertson is well organized, his supporters are loyal and a high percentage of them will go to the polls.

But, he said, there just aren’t enough of them to give Robertson a victory in Florida where Democrats cannot cross over into the GOP primary.

In Texas, Bush has a home court advantage over Robertson and Dole as it is the vice president’s adopted home state.

Bush also has strong Florida connections through his son, Jeb, former local party chairman in Dade County where the Cuban-American vote is centered. He is now the state’s commerce secretary. Also, the GOP establishment in Florida, from Gov. Bob Martinez, a national Bush campaign co-chairman, on down has lined up strongly behind the vice president.

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