Republican Patrick Buchanan left New Hampshire on Wednesday having won the right to be a pest but not a president.
After embarrassing President Bush in the New Hampshire primary, Buchanan brings his anti-Washington, anti-tax, "America First" campaign to states in the South and West.
It will be like leaving a small county fair for Disney World. Buchanan will find the South more expensive and much bigger than New Hampshire. Bush has more money, organization and is ready to attack his GOP challenger head-on.
"I might have to define the opponent," Bush told reporters. "I've been very kind and gentle. I'll still be kind, and now I'm debating how gentle to be."
In a campaign speech in Knoxville, Tenn., Bush suggested Buchanan wants to make Social Security a voluntary program.
Bush said he would have liked to do better than the 53-37 percent victory in Tuesday's primary. But he said "it's a new ballgame" as he geared up for the 13 GOP contests held from March 3 to the March 10 Super Tuesday primary that includes Florida.
"I'm not taking anything for granted," Bush said. "I'm going to stay out here across this country _ and I've been in tough fights before _ roll up my sleeves and go after them."
"I think after Super Tuesday, it (Buchanan's challenge) will wane. I don't see much activity after that," said Floridian Jeanie Austin, co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. "I think this will re-energize the (Bush) campaign. They were taking it a bit for granted."
Buchanan, who expects to visit Tampa for a fund-raiser Saturday, concedes he has an uphill fight against Bush but vows to take his insurgency all the way to the summer nominating convention. It is highly unlikely Bush will be denied the nomination; about half of the New Hampshire voters told pollsters they chose Buchanan to send Bush a message, not to oust the president.
Up to this point, though, Buchanan has shown more heart than Bush. "We are in the year of the outsider," he said at a news conference in Bedford, N.H., Wednesday morning.
"Mr. Bush is about to deploy all the king's horses and all the king's men to defeat us," he said. "For us to have a fighting chance, Republicans have to start climbing down off the fence, standing up and being counted the way the people of New Hampshire have stood up and were counted."
Though it may fall short of the nomination, a number of factors can keep Buchanan's campaign alive to possibly damage Bush before the general election campaign:
First, the economy. Florida, where Buchanan wants to campaign in select congressional districts, had a higher unemployment rate last month than New Hampshire did in December. But Georgia is doing better economically.
If people can't find work, they will continue to voice their anger with a vote for Buchanan. He led Bush by 10 percentage points among New Hampshire voters with unemployed people in their families, according to voter interviews.
Second, Buchanan can expand his message to other conservative issues. He will stir racial anxieties by calling last year's job discrimination bill a "quota bill." Like his use of Bush's reversal on his 1988 "no new taxes" pledge, Buchanan can show the president as a flip-flopper who once opposed the "quota bill" and later backed it when it was altered slightly.
Third, despite Bush's fund-raising advantage of some $10-million, the GOP challenger has the ability to get enough to make his case in television ads.
Ironically, Buchanan is using direct-mail sophisticate Richard Viguerie to finance a campaign that rails against "the professional political class." He expects to get another $1-million in U.S. taxpayers' money March 3 as part of the program that provides partial financing for elections.
He spent more than $2-million in New Hampshire, most of it on effective television ads that hammered away at Bush for going back on his "no new taxes" pledge. New advertisements will air in Georgia, perhaps by Saturday.
All these factors mean Buchanan has the platform to distract Bush and force him into a primary fight he did not want or expect. It is the second front for Bush; former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is on the ballot in the March 7 South Carolina primary. No one is suggesting any other major GOP candidate will get into the race.
Yet Buchanan is heading into a region that Bush's late campaign manager Lee Atwater called his "firewall," an area where the president has party leaders lined up to generate votes. In Mississippi, for example, a rally to begin the Bush campaign last week drew 900 people, including the state's U.S. senators and governor. In Florida, he has Sen. Connie Mack, a conservative like Buchanan but loyal to Bush. Mack predicts a Florida win for Bush.
One potential plus for Bush in the patriotic South is his performance in the Persian Gulf war. As a columnist, Buchanan opposed the war. He also wants to cut U.S. foreign aid.
An uncertainty is the effect of charges Buchanan is anti-Semitic and wants to close U.S. borders. Cuban-Americans in South Florida probably won't like his isolationism.
"If that had happened before his family got out of Ireland, how would they have gotten here?" asked Austin, the Republican Party co-chairwoman.
Aware of Bush's southern strength, Buchanan is limiting the battleground to a handful of states. The first test is Georgia on March 3, where he expects a strong showing but no victory. Then, he will compete in Rhode Island, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Massachusetts, plus parts of Florida and Texas, aides said.
"We hope to beat him in a state on Super Tuesday," said Angela "Bay" Buchanan, a former U.S. treasurer who is managing her brother's campaign. Most of the states allot GOP delegates only to the candidate getting the most votes in each congressional district. Second place earns nothing.
Buchanan is clearly enjoying all the attention. While riding on the press bus Monday, he hoisted a television camera on his shoulder. Wednesday, when he was asked about someday becoming the leader of the free world, Buchanan grinned and said: "It's a great title."