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Two parties' primary trails now traverse different terrain

With Iowa and New Hampshire behind them, the presidential contests now diverge.

George W. Bush, John McCain and the rest of the Republican field will fight their battles in increments, hopscotching from primary state to primary state over the next four weeks.

Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley, faced with no interruptions before the huge and potentially decisive 11-state primary March 7, will conduct what is for all intents and purposes a national campaign.

That means that while Bush and McCain will adjust their messages to regional peculiarities and interests, the Democrats will devise more sweeping strategies.

Republican landscape

DELAWARE, TUESDAY: McCain, the landslide winner in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, has chosen to bypass Delaware's primary to concentrate on more critical states such as South Carolina and Michigan. But millionaire publisher Steve Forbes is hoping to reprise his 1996 primary victory there. Bush, who has the money and the organization to compete coast-to-coast, is not taking the state for granted.

SOUTH CAROLINA, FEB. 19: Bush enters the state with a 20-point lead in the polls, money in the bank, religious conservatives on his side and the support of such Republican stalwarts as former Govs. Carroll Campbell and David Beasley. McCain hopes to galvanize the state's 400,000 military veterans and its independent voters.

MICHIGAN, FEB. 22: This is the first big state, demographically diverse and with up to 58 delegates. The state's popular Republican governor, John Engler, has vowed to deliver the state for Bush. But McCain is spending money there, and hoping a victory in South Carolina will give him a boost.

ARIZONA, FEB. 22: McCain's home state could be a hazard. Forbes won the state's 1996 Republican primary and Bush has the support of the state's Republican governor, Jane Dee Hull. McCain is not spending a great deal of time or money in his own state, counting on being its favorite son. A loss there could hurt symbolically and cost him 30 delegates; the winner takes them all.

In each of these states, the election rules allow independent voters to participate in the GOP primary. McCain hopes to exploit that, but not all independent, or non-party, voters have the same iconoclastic sensibilities as New Hampshire independents.

SUPER TUESDAY, MARCH 7: If McCain makes it this far, then this is his ultimate test. About a dozen states, including California and New York, are on the line. This is where Bush's money and organization are critical: Air time for political ads in California alone runs about $1.5-million a week per candidate, by one estimate.

"You have to be on the air to speak to voters," said Leslie Goodman, a Republican communications consultant in California who has advised the Bush camp. "You can't do retail politics like McCain did in New Hampshire."

McCain has a significant Super Tuesday handicap: He's not on the ballot in a number of New York congressional districts, kicked off by stiff party eligibility rules.

Democratic landscape

Both Gore and Bradley are embracing coast-to-coast strategies aimed at Super Tuesday. Like McCain in the Republican contests, Bradley is betting on independent and unaffiliated voters.

Only three of the 11 Democratic primaries that day are closed to independent voters: Maryland, Connecticut and New York. The rest allow voters who are not registered Democrats to vote and, if New Hampshire is a guide, Bradley can count on their support.

Five of the Super Tuesday states are in New England, where Bradley receives high favorable ratings, but the big prizes, as they are for Republicans, are New York and California.

In New York, Bradley still wears the mantle of hometown hero from his days as a member of the New York Knicks basketball team. Still, New York's prohibition on independent voters deprives Bradley of one potential bloc of support.

Gore has a substantial lead in the California polls, though that could dissipate quickly once the two candidates get their messages on television and voters begin to pay attention.

On the trail today

Bradley campaigns in San Francisco. Gore also is in California before flying to Washington state for an event in Olympia. McCain and Bush are in South Carolina, with the governor breaking off for a Detroit event. Forbes is in Delaware.

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