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Bill Clinton Predicted to Win Many `Super Tuesday' Victories

By Thomas B. Edsall
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton is poised to win a decisive majority of the 783 Democratic National Convention delegates to be chosen Monday in primaries and caucuses in 11 states and -- depending on the outcome in Florida -- to take the a lead in the battle for the presidential nomination.

Six of the eight states holding primaries are in Clinton's stronghold in the deep South or bordering it. Clinton appears to hold strong leads in five of them, including delegate-rich Texas.

Former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas, in turn, holds an even stronger lead in his home state and looks like a sure victor in neighboring Rhode Island.

Three other states -- Delaware, Hawaii and Missouri -- are holding caucuses. The third candidate for the nomination, former California Gov. Jerry Brown, may do better in these low-turnout caucuses than in the primaries.

The one close primary contest, according to polls taken for the Miami Herald and other newspapers in the state, is in Florida. The outcome there will shape much of the media and public perception of the outcome of Super Tuesday, when more delegates are chosen than any other day in the campaign.

For Clinton, a victory in Florida would give him clear front-runner status over Tsongas heading into the contests March 17 in Illinois and Michigan. For Tsongas, a Florida win would demonstrate power to dent Clinton's southern base and force a more equivocal media interpretation of a set of contests tilted to Clinton's advantage.

In the closing days of the Florida contest, Clinton forced Tsongas on the defensive on three separate fronts. He questioned Tsongas' commitment to Israel in a state where 10 percent of the primary electorate is Jewish; he cited Tsongas' proposal to raise gas taxes in a state dependent on tourism; and he charged that Tsongas would both cut and tax Social Security benefits in a state where one in five voters gets such benefits.

There is no reason to expect a southerner to win in Florida, where many of the voters migrated from the North. In 1988, then-Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts won Florida, beating Sen. Albert Gore, D-Tenn. Dukakis -- who was far better organized than Tsongas is now and who had strong Hispanic support, which Tsongas does not -- also beat Gore in Texas.

A poll taken over a week ago by Mason-Dixon Political Research gave Clinton a 27-21 edge over Tsongas and a 30-24 advantage among very likely Democratic primary voters in Florida. Tsongas, however, had his strongest levels of backing among up-scale whites, who tend to turn out in large numbers, while Clinton was strongest among more less-affluent voters -- black, white and Hispanic -- all of whom tend to turn out in lower percentages. In addition, Tsongas won the endorsement of a host of the state's major newspapers, including the Tampa Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times and the Orlando Sentinel.

Because of the high stakes in the Florida contests, Tsongas and Clinton have both made heavy investments of time and money in the state, and the level of bitterness has reached new heights.

The proportion of white voters is higher in Florida than much of the rest of the South, and one of Tsongas' major liabilities in the other southern primaries is his weakness among black voters. In the Saturday South Carolina primary, Clinton won 63 percent of the vote, compared with Tsongas' 19, while crushing him 75-3 among black voters. In the Georgia primary last Tuesday, the Clinton-Tsongas margin among blacks was 70-14.

Brad Coker, president of the Mason-Dixon polling company, said the firm's surveys in the other southern primary states suggest that "it will be a blowout for Clinton. Mississippi, Tennessee and Oklahoma are going to look a lot like South Carolina and Georgia (both Clinton landslides)," while the Clinton margin will be somewhat less in Texas.

If Clinton looks strong in most of the South, Tsongas looks just as tough on his home turf. A poll conducted for The Boston Globe and WBZ-TV by KRC Communications Research shows Tsongas with a 64-8 advantage over Clinton in Massachusetts, with 6 percent going to Brown. Clinton has more organizational support in neighboring Rhode Island, but Tsongas is expected to do well in both states.

With the Super Tuesday contests expected to give Clinton a boost, he will be in good shape a week later in the crucial Illinois and Michigan contests, where neither candidate has a regional advantage.