A Muddled Home Stretch

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MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE: As the GOP candidates head into the final weekend before the New Hampshire primary, only one thing is clear: none has yet captured the imaginations of a large bloc of voters. In the wake of Thursday night's televised debate, tracking polls show the candidates in much the same position they have been in all week: Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan locked in a dead heat for first, with Steve Forbes pushing hard just to charge past Lamar Alexander into third. "The debate in Manchester was an event of diminishing returns," TIME's Michael Duffy reports from New Hampshire. "No candidate emerged a clear winner or loser, but nearly all were diminished in some way. If an edge could be assigned to anyone, I'd give it to Buchanan, for being aggressive and, if not exactly appealing, at least full of conviction, which probably helps in a tight race. And so the candidates head into the final three days of campaigning about where they have been all week, only less so." Buchanan was also responsible for a moment of unintentional self-parody in the debate when he let everyone know that illegal immigration would cease if he was elected: "Those guys aren't going to want to come across the border if Pat Buchanan is President of the United States." With Tuesday's outcome still very much in doubt, the candidates spent Friday addressing the economic issues that have traditionally decided the New Hampshire race. Dole unleashed a new series of ads attacking Alexander for advocating a state income tax while governor of Tennessee. But Dole was in turn blasted by Buchanan on the same ground. In new televised campaign ads, Buchanan noted that Dole had voted for five tax increases over the past twenty years.
More SpoilsWhile Buchanan and Alexander work to capture Phil Gramm's voter and financial base, Dole has been collecting endorsements from the senator's aborted presidential campaign. A day after receiving the endorsement of former Gramm finance chairman Tom Loeffler, Dole Friday won the support of Arizona Senator John McCain. Like Dole a military veteran, McCain is expected to be named the Dole campaign's chief advisor on national security issues.