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Democratic Field May Narrow as Seven States Hold Primaries

By David S. Broder
and Thomas B. Edsall

The Washington Post

Seven states choose delegates today in contests that will test the durability of the challenge to President Bush's renomination and could provide the first definitive sorting of the Democratic field.

Republican challenger Patrick J. Buchanan is looking for a big enough vote in Georgia to sustain his anti-Bush effort through the 11-state "Super Tuesday" coming up on March 10.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton is counting on Georgia to give him his first win of the season and launch him into the southern-dominated "Super Tuesday" states, where he hopes to establish his claim to the Democratic nomination.

But his advisers expressed concern that a Clinton win in Georgia could be eclipsed if the polls showing former Massachusetts senator Paul E. Tsongas out front in the other two primary states, Maryland and Colorado, are confirmed by the voting results.

Four other states -- Idaho, Minnesota, Utah and Washington -- and American Samoa hold Democratic caucuses Tuesday, bringing the total number of Democratic delegates at stake to 383. Whoever gets the biggest chunk of those delegates will establish himself as the leader in the race.

For three other Democrats -- Sens. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Tom Harkin of Iowa and former California governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr. -- Tuesday's results pose a test of financial and political viability.

Kerrey, with only a win in South Dakota to his credit, has concentrated on Colorado and the western caucus states in hopes of finding enough delegates to persuade his contributors he still has a chance. Harkin, who has fared badly except in the caucuses in his home state, hopes for a victory in the Minnesota caucuses to encourage his labor and liberal contributors.

Brown, who came close to upsetting Tsongas in the Maine caucuses but has trailed badly elsewhere, needs a better showing to continue to qualify for federal matching funds.

Tsongas, who was credentialed by his victories in New Hampshire and Maine, campaigned Monday in Maryland, which appears to be his best chance for a win outside his home region. "I have to do well here," he said at a robotics firm in the Washington suburb of Greenbelt. "I have to be competitive in Colorado."

Private polls in Maryland show Tsongas out front, with Clinton in second and the other three far back. A poll published yesterday in Denver showed a close three-way race in Colorado, with Tsongas at 27 percent, Clinton at 23 percent and Brown climbing to 21 percent. The margin of error in the poll is large enough to consider the race almost a dead heat.

In Georgia, where top Democratic leaders, black and white, have endorsed Clinton, politicians are likely to be gauging his success by the size of his vote. Anything over 50 percent would be considered a clear victory in a five-man field; below that, it might be considered less impressive.

In an effort to hold down Clinton's black vote, Tsongas has been running radio ads publicizing Clinton's irritated response to a false report that Harkin would be endorsed by Jesse L. Jackson. The ads, saying Tsongas would show more "respect" for the civil rights leader, have been airing in five cities with large black populations -- Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Baltimore and Denver -- according to Tsongas aides.

For Bush, the goal is to hold Buchanan below the 37 percent share of the vote the conservative television commentator and columnist received in the New Hampshire primary. A crucial question for Buchanan is how many conservative Democrats and independents are attracted into the normally low-turnout Republican primary by his hard-edged appeal on such social issues as pornography, gay rights and quotas.

While insisting that Buchanan is no threat to Bush's renomination and arguing that the president will win virtually all the delegates at stake Tuesday, Bush strategists say that the longer the Buchanan challenge continues, the greater the danger of a party split that could weaken Bush in November. They hope -- but are not sure -- that Georgia will mark the beginning of the end of the right-wing insurgency.

As for the Democrats, Brown has vowed to carry on his low-budget effort through the final primary in California, but his effort would clearly get a needed boost if he can finish ahead of Kerrey and Harkin in Colorado and other states.

Harkin has put most of his effort into Minnesota, where the backers of liberal Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) give him a built-in organizational base. It is not clear whether a win in Minnesota by itself would revive a campaign that has languished for lack of funds ever since his fourth-place finish in New Hampshire.

Kerrey, focusing on the western contests, acknowledged in San Francisco that he was "not one of the front-runners" in the upcoming primaries. But after raising $70,000 at a fund-raiser organized by developer Walter Shorenstein, said he hoped for enough of a showing to be considered "a credible candidate" for the later contests in the industrial states.