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Buchanan Builds Eclectic Coalition _ Forces Skeptics To Rethink

February 26, 1996

MESA, Ariz. (AP) _ Elijah Cardon is a wealthy petroleum dealer; James Colter a retired hospital worker of modest means. These very different men share a deep disdain for Washington, even deeper faith in God _ and enthusiastic support for Pat Buchanan.

Cardon and Colter are part of Buchanan’s eclectic coalition: a mix of Christian conservatives, rural populists and gun enthusiasts, angry blue-collar workers and others who often have little in common with each other save disgust with politics.

``It’s about time we had an honest president,″ said Colter, who attended a weekend Buchanan rally in rural Camp Verde. ``Now all the politicians in Washington are yelling about the guy. That only makes me like him more.″

This rebellious streak is a common trait of Buchanan’s backers, many of whom doubt the GOP presidential hopeful could defeat President Clinton in November but nonetheless want to deliver a message.

``It is about time that Washington realizes that the country is a lot more conservative than they think,″ said Bill Haynes, a Phoenix precious metals dealer. ``It is about time we had a candidate who was not afraid to say this is one nation, under God.″

Exit polling in Louisiana, Iowa, New Hampshire and Delaware this year suggests Buchanan supporters tend to be more conservative than the overall GOP electorate.

Still, Buchanan is having some success across the GOP’s ideological spectrum. And, perhaps most importantly, he has proven his ability to attract middle class and Ross Perot voters who are critical to Republican chances against Clinton.

``Good Americans,″ is how Buchanan describes members of his ragtag coalition.

The so-called experts aren’t sure what to make of it. While most in the political establishment remain deeply skeptical of Buchanan’s staying power, the commentator’s early success has forced them to rethink the notion he could never win the Republican nomination.

``Anyone who still thinks that isn’t paying much attention,″ said Arizona Sen. John McCain, a supporter of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. McCain gives Buchanan even or better odds of winning Tuesday’s Arizona GOP primary.

Even Buchanan himself is a recent convert. With a nervous laugh, the once unthinkable makes its way into his speeches these days.

``If I win Arizona, I win that nomination,″ he told enthusiastic crowds over the weekend. ``And if I win that nomination I am the next president of the United States.″

Among those who heard Buchanan’s message: more than 250 people who filled Cardon’s yard Sunday night, looking up with admiring gazes as Buchanan spoke from a second-floor balcony.

Most Republicans still believe that Buchanan will lose steam once _ or if _ the field shrinks so that Dole, publishing heir Steve Forbes and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander don’t splinter the more mainstream GOP vote.

But if nothing else, the Buchanan phenomenon, and the people propelling it, are forcing the Republican Party to take notice of the festering anger and anxiety that many Republicans assumed would disappear from GOP voters after the party captured Congress in 1994.

Here in Arizona, disdain for the federal government often borders on suspicion and paranoia. It is not uncommon, for example, to find well-educated Buchanan supporters who are convinced their own government had a role in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Many also nod fiercely as Buchanan rails against NAFTA and GATT _ and not just because they blame the trade deals for job losses and stagnant wages.

Buchanan wins votes by casting these global agreements, and U.S. involvement in U.N. peacekeeping operations, as part of ``the steady, slow surrender of the sovereignty and freedom for which the founding fathers fought and died.″

Jim Rousseau, a rural Arizona farmer, is so convinced of this he will not vote in November if he can’t vote for Buchanan. ``All the others are for global government,″ he said.

There is irony in Buchanan’s anti-Washington, anti-establishment appeal: He was born and raised in Washington and spent most of his life in the halls of power, as a White House aide and media commentator. But in his cowboy hat and bolo tie, Buchanan the Outsider convincingly rails against ``all the lobbyists and hacks up there in Washington.″

And to those who believed Buchanan would smooth the rough edges of his message in search of broader support, think again.

After all, Buchanan believes his greatest strength is not his position on any one issue but the trait that has become his campaign slogan: ``I am someone who means what he says and says what he means.″

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