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Primary delivers victory of conscience

In certain jaded corridors of power, it is taken for granted that the American people are past caring whether their government is honest or corrupt, that the way to their hearts is through their pocketbooks, not their souls. This has been expressed among Democrats as, "It's the economy, stupid," and among Republicans as a credo of tax cuts today, tomorrow and forever.

They may be right. For Al Gore and George W. Bush to be the nominees in November would just about prove it.

But a remarkable dissent volleyed and thundered out of the White Mountains of New Hampshire on Tuesday. With seven major candidates on the Democratic and Republican ballots, the two whose cardinal issue was campaign-finance reform took 49 percent of the total vote. John McCain, a conservative, and Bill Bradley, a liberal, proved emphatically that good government, in the original sense of that term, still packs a powerful appeal transcending party and ideology.

If the New Hampshire results foretold the nation's November ballot, it would seem easy to predict the outcome. In the exit polls, nearly half of Bradley's voters said it mattered most to them that he stands up for what he believes. That was McCain's greatest asset, too (twice as many Republican voters said that of him as of Bush) clearly positioning McCain for a strong appeal to Bradley Democrats in November.

If only they could run together on a national unity ticket, they would be unstoppable.

They can't, of course, and New Hampshire, only the second stop on the tortuous preconvention trail, is also the last where the voters can see the candidates up close and personal. If it is possible to be too rich and too thin for New Hampshire's tastes, the odds elsewhere still favor Bush and Gore, with their greater wealth of money, party hacks _ excuse me, loyalists _ and name recognition.

But not as much as before. If Gore goes on to meet and beat Bush, his waking thought as president-elect should be to thank McCain for first exposing the dubiousness of Dubya's "inevitability." For now, his prayers should be that the Republicans do not have the wits to send McCain against him.

Meanwhile, Gore would be wise to stop taking the voters for fools, lest they start taking him for one. His boast about having dealt Bradley a "devastating blow" was hogwash, and everyone knows it. Bradley would have been better off to win than to lose narrowly, but he isn't out of it by any means. New Hampshire was a resounding moral victory that should play as well in Peoria as in Dixville Notch.

Every so often, I designate some redolently deserving person or entity for what I call the Sarah N. Cleghorn award. Cleghorn (1876-1959) was the American poet who wrote:

The golf links lie so near the mill

That almost every day

The working children can look out

And see the men at play.

Today's winner is, of course, the Tampa Sports Authority for its 6-0 vote to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers evade an estimated $14,000 in sales taxes on marble tables, leather chairs and televisions for 24 new luxury suites at their football stadium.

That it may be legal _ which I doubt _ doesn't make it right. Where Joe Lunchbucket might occasionally scrape together enough bucks to see the Bucs play, those luxury suites are reserved for the rich, the powerful and the politicians. Joe Lunchbucket has to pay sales tax on his furniture and TV; why shouldn't they?

Here's what Henry Saavedra, the authority's director, had to say about it: "There are 24 more suites available to the citizens of the city of Tampa. It is really a benefit to the community."

Give that man the Marie Antoinette Award.

Coincidence?

Gov. Jeb Bush's published schedule showed successive meetings Monday with Rep. Luis Rojas, Lila Jaber, John Vogt and Joe Lacher. Rojas, Jaber and Vogt are finalists for his appointment to the Public Service Commission. Lacher is president of BellSouth, which is regulated (after a fashion) by the PSC.

Lacher is also vice chair of Enterprise Florida, the state's development agency, which was undoubtedly the only subject of his conversation with the governor. Or so one would expect the governor's office to say. Trouble is, it won't say. My e-mail inquiry Tuesday was acknowledged, and that was the last of it.

Trouble with the phones, perhaps?

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