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Gore, Bush Clinch Party Nominations

March 15, 2000

Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush clinched their presidential nominations in a series of Southern contests Tuesday night, securing the delegates they needed to ensure a November matchup that quickly turned contentious.

``It’s a choice between keeping prosperity going or going back to the Bush-Quayle days of gigantic budget deficits and paralyzed democracy,″ Gore told The Associated Press after locking up the Democratic nomination.

Bush dismissed the reference to his father’s administration, telling The AP, ``I’m looking forward and (Gore is) looking backward. There is going to be a contrast, and the American people will make the choice: Do they want four more years of Clinton-Gore or do they want a reformer who’s gotten positive results?″

Florida’s polls closed first, sending the two candidates on a triumphant march across the South, as Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana also conducted primaries in which the front-runners were virtually unopposed. Bush is governor of Texas; Gore hails from Tennessee.

Based on interviews with voters as they left the polls, the AP projected that Bush’s delegate count would reach 1,090, and Gore’s would reach at least 2,540 by the end of the night _ far more than required.

``I’m humbled with the knowledge that I am a step closer to assuming the highest office in the land,″ Bush told the AP.

With that, the governor pledged to improve schools and restore ``honor and dignity to the White House.″ Gore rattled off a laundry list of issues he would address, including education, health care, Social Security, Medicare and the national debt. And he suggested that Bush is beholden to his party’s right wing, warning that the Texan would give anti-abortion evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell a ``working majority″ on the Supreme court.

``This election is a fork in the road. I represent one direction. He represents another,″ Gore told the AP.

Republican John McCain and Democrat Bill Bradley abandoned their campaigns Thursday, ending an exciting primary season that tested the front-runners and spurred record-breaking voter turnout. Former ambassador Alan Keyes remained on GOP ballots, but was not a threat to Bush.

With suspense drained from the race, turnout was low in Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana.

``There’s just no interest in this election,″ said Michael Garner, a Democratic poll worker in Mississippi.

The limited choices didn’t impress voters.

``I guess I’m just going to have to vote for Gore, though I’m not really happy about it,″ said Dennis McHale, a Democrat from New Orleans who was drawn to the polls by a city council election.

Bush entered Tuesday’s races with 752 of the 1,034 delegates needed to seal the nomination. The six states had 341 delegates up for grabs, including 124 from Bush’s home state of Texas.

McCain had just 239 delegates.

The vice president began the day with 2,014 of the 2,170 delegates needed. Bradley had 313.

Both nominations become formal when the major parties conduct conventions in the summer.

In a hopeful sign for the Republican candidate, exit polls suggested that Bush ran stronger among Democratic voters than Gore did among GOP voters. Just 6 percent of voters in Republican primaries said they would for Gore in November; twice as many Democrats said they would defect to Bush.

In Gore’s home state of Tennessee, Republicans showed an intense dislike of their native son: only 4 percent of the GOP voters said they would vote for the vice president in November, and more than 80 percent had an unfavorable opinion of their one-time senator.

In Texas, half the Republicans as well as half the Democrats said Bush was more conservative as presidential candidate than he was in 1998, when he won a landslide re-election as governor.

The exit polling was conducted by Voter News Service, a consortium of the AP and television networks.

After voting for himself in Tennessee’s primary, Gore promised ``no let up at all″ in campaigning, even with the nomination fight settled.

``Whatever energy I might feel like putting into celebrating I am putting into the general election instead,″ said Gore, who like Bush is appealing to the political middle and voters outside their own party. ``I’m going to reach out to Republicans and independents.″

Getting ahead of himself, the vice president outlined his accomplishments ``as president″ and quickly corrected the error: ``As vice president, I mean.″

Bush dabbled with state business in Austin, Texas, and met with Secret Service officials about their plans to take over for state police who have been protecting him. He had already voted for himself by absentee ballot.

Bush’s parents, former President Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, voted for their son in Houston. The elder Bush had trouble expressing his emotions.

``It gets down to family and how lucky we are,″ the former president said.

Politics runs in both families. Gore is the son of the late Sen. Albert Gore Sr., a critic of the Vietnam War and early convert to civil rights who lost his Tennessee seat in 1970. The elder Gore once bragged that his son was raised to succeed in presidential politics.

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