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Bush gets sweep in GOP contests

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2000

ARLINGTON, Va. -- George W. Bush swept past John McCain in three Republican presidential contests Tuesday, buoyed by the religious right and party faithful in Virginia's battleground to fatten his delegate count in advance of next week's 13-state showdown.

In the Democratic campaign, Vice President Al Gore beat Bill Bradley in a popular-vote Washington state primary that yielded no delegates. The defeat was a severe blow for the former New Jersey senator, who had invested heavily in the political "beauty pageant" in hopes of rejuvenating his campaign. Instead, the showing is certain to increase speculation that Bradley's campaign is on its last legs.

With the see-sawing Republican presidential race exposing a rift between the party's conservative and moderate wings, Bush said McCain paid a high price for attacking evangelical leaders. "The voters of Virginia rejected the politics of pitting one religion against another," the Texas governor said. "We are expanding our base without destroying our foundations."

Their bitter fight also was waged in North Dakota and Washington state, and Bush won the delegate chase in both states, ending the night with an estimated 170 delegates compared to 105 for McCain to take the lead in the race toward the 1,034 needed for the GOP nomination.

Bush won the majority of Republican voters in Washington state. However, voters who picked a third non-partisan ballot chose McCain hands down over Bush, Bradley and Gore.

Sounding tired but defiant, McCain told backers in Bakersfield, Calif., that Bush was guilty of using negative tactics. "My opponent wants to be president in the worst way. I want to be president in the best way." With the pink evening sun dipping beneath an American flag serving as his backdrop, McCain said, "We're still the underdog. Don't forget it. But we're going to win Tuesday."

The Texas governor won because Republican voters overwhelmed independents and Democrats who crossed party lines in support of McCain, a warning sign for the Arizona senator as he prepares for New York, California, Ohio and 10 other states conducting GOP contests next Tuesday. "I've proven I can bring Republicans out in big numbers," Bush said.

One day after McCain labeled certain evangelical leaders "agents of intolerance," religious conservatives accounted for 20 percent of the Virginia vote. They backed Bush 8-to-1, prompting the governor to say his victory puts the GOP "one step closer to having a united party."

In Virginia, with all of the precincts reporting, Bush had 53 percent of the vote, McCain had 44 percent and Alan Keyes had 3 percent.

In North Dakota, with 100 percent of districts reporting, Bush had 76 percent of the vote, McCain had 19 percent and Keyes had 5 percent.

In Washington state, with 26 percent of the precincts reporting, Bush had 59 percent of the GOP vote, McCain had 38 percent and Keyes had 2 percent. Among voters who chose the non-partisan ballot, McCain led with 40 percent, Bush had 23 percent, Gore 22 percent and Bradley 12 percent.

Bush won all 56 delegates with his victory in Virginia, 14 delegates in North Dakota and 7 delegates in Washington state, based on early returns. McCain won four delegates in North Dakota and five delegates in Washington state. Keyes picked up one delegate in North Dakota.

Bush's victory fit a pattern set in the early primary fights: McCain wins if non-Republicans swarm to GOP primaries; the Texan wins if Republicans dominate their primaries and caucuses.

In New Hampshire and Michigan, site of McCain's two victories over Bush, Democrats and independents accounted for about half the total vote. In South Carolina and Virginia, two Southern conservative states won by Bush, two-thirds of the vote came from self-identified Republicans.

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