Why The Un Candidates Could Unravel

Just a few heady days ago, they were the "un-candidates," straight-talking insurgents who wowed the political Establishment with breakthroughs in New Hampshire. But for Republican Patrick J. Buchanan and Democrat Paul E. Tsongas, it's reality time. Battling fatigue, a cash crunch, and a crowded campaign calendar, the heroes of New Hampshire are now struggling for survival against better-organized rivals.

Will the un-candidates unravel? The stress cracks that have doomed many an underdog effort are starting to appear, as both men zig-zag across the country in a frantic search for campaign donors and media attention. Tsongas, whose cash need is greater than Buchanan's, is running the hardest. In recent days, he has raced from New Hampshire to fund-raisers in Tampa and New York City's Astoria district, where he put the touch on his fellow Greek-Americans (page 45 41 ).

`MINI-SUPER TUESDAY.' For Tsongas and Buchanan, the Mar. 3 primaries in Georgia and Maryland are more than a preview of the big Mar. 10 round of Southern contests. They may determine if either man is a serious Presidential contender. "Mar. 3 is shaping up as a mini-Super Tuesday," says Democratic strategist Mark Siegel. "Bush hopes that his Southern fire wall will save him in Georgia. If Clinton isn't perceived as 'winning' Georgia, the confidence that he'll sweep the South vanishes. And Maryland is a do-or-die test for Tsongas. If he loses, he becomes just another one-shot regional candidate."

Consider Buchanan, the man with the golden lip. In New Hampshire, he had the benefit of a rotten economy and a month of door-to-door campaigning. His core support came from hard-right Republicans and Bush-bashing independents. To further tilt the odds, there was the support of the righter-than-thou Manchester Union-Leader.

In Dixie, it's another story. George Bush partisans have organized Georgia to the hilt. "Our steering committee has everybody on it--Bob Dole supporters, Jack Kemp supporters, even Pat Robertson's brother," notes Bush state campaign Chairman Fred Cooper. "A message was sent in New Hampshire. In Georgia, we're saying that continuing to send it can only damage the President."

To underscore that point, the White House is wheeling out such conservatives as Vice-President Dan Quayle and Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp. Even House GOP Whip Newt Gingrich, a scathing critic of Bushian economics, is stumping Georgia for Bush.

The President himself plans two Georgia visits. And he has approved tough TV spots that attack Buchanan's opposition to the Persian Gulf war. "In a region that strongly supports the military, Buchanan is going to be hurt by his war stance," says Tony Denny, Bush's southern regional coordinator.

MISSING MAGIC. Although a Feb. 24-25 poll shows Bush leading him by 63% to 27% in Georgia, Buchanan isn't awed by the firepower arrayed against him. He's blitzing the state in a shop-worn Convair turboprop, taking his campaign to Augusta, Atlanta's bustling suburbs, and the hill country pockets that are home to the "Bubba" vote.

But the magical inspiration of New Hampshire seems oddly missing. On a recent foray into the North Georgia hamlet of Ellijay, Buchanan forgot to scribble down an education speech in time for an appearance at a local school--and met Georgians reluctant to abandon Bush. Buchanan is "telling us what we want to hear," said Jack Bandy, who runs an Atlanta investment-counseling firm and made the trek to Ellijay to hear Buchanan's pitch. "Pat's an idealist who is trying to get us back to what made our country great," he concludes. As for a vote? "Just looking."

Nor did Buchanan find the going easier when his caravan rolled into the prosperous Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead. Only about 50 fans showed up for a $500-a-plate fund-raiser. And at a lightly attended rally at a nearby hotel, staffers had to tell the faithful that the Buchanan-for-President buttons they wanted were "on order."

Despite his campaign's disorganization, Buchanan still can count on such partisans as Lyle Shira, a Delta Air Lines Inc. pilot and Coweta County GOP chairman. Shira is supporting Buchanan "because the Republican Party has to stand for something other than cutting backroom deals with the Democrats in Congress. President Bush," Shira feels, "just doesn't have the convictions."

Up north in Maryland, un-Democrat Tsongas is finding the footing equally treacherous. Despite Tsongas' predictions of a strong Maryland showing--he leads Arkansas Governor Clinton 33% to 26% in a new poll--Clinton swooped into Baltimore on Feb. 22 and snagged endorsements from top congressional Democrats and black leaders. Since blacks make up 23% of the Maryland electorate, the raid seemed to strikeat one of Tsongas' chief weaknesses: His probusiness pitch appeals far more to well-heeled suburbanites and inde-pendents than it does to traditional Democrats.

`LOOSE CANNON.' A border state, Maryland has upscale demographics that make it a lot more like Connecticut than its Southern cousins. That should provide fertile ground for Tsonganomics, but the former Massachusetts senator has been listless in campaign appearances in Annapolis and the Washington suburbs. And an unexpected endorsement from William Donald Schaefer, the state's controversial governor, is a mixed blessing. "Schaefer's popularity is in the 20s, and he's a loose cannon to boot," says a veteran state pol. "Tsongas will have to keep him quiet or suffer the backlash."

The pros' predictions for Georgia and Maryland? Bush wins big in the Peach State. Clinton also scores. But Tsongas and a Medal-of-Honor-brandishing Bob Kerrey, fresh from his victory in the Feb. 25 South Dakota primary, cut into his tally. And in Maryland, Tsongas plods to a narrow victory that doesn't quite give him the national lift he seeks. Or so the pundits say. But then, who's crazy enough to listen to pundits in this topsy-turvy election year?

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