Associated Press
Section: MAIN,  Page: A4

Date: Tuesday, March 5, 1996

ROSWELL, Ga. -- Sen. Bob Dole's presidential rivals battled a sense of inevitability Monday about his quest for the Republican nomination. House Speaker Newt Gingrich cast an early Georgia ballot for Dole and called him ``the next president,'' even as Dole played down expectations, insisting the race was far from over. Patrick Buchanan, for whom Georgia's primary today is shaping up as a do-or-die test, took the sharpest aim at Dole, branding him a liberal in a new radio ad airing in the state.

Buchanan called Georgia, one of 10 states parceling out 259 delegates today, pivotal to his nomination prospects. He canceled some planned appearances in New York and extended his Georgia stay, hoping to improve on his distant second-place finish to Dole in South Carolina on Saturday. Dole won all 14 delegates in Puerto Rico on Sunday.

Lamar Alexander, who has yet to place better than third anywhere, early Monday said he's ``going straight ahead'' through today's voting and on to next week's Super Tuesday primaries. ``I think the jury's still out about whether Bob Dole is what the Republican Party wants,'' the former Tennessee governor said while campaigning in Atlanta.

But later in Boston, Alexander added a caveat: ``If Bob Dole beats me in Florida, I'll get out and he's the nominee.''

Publisher Steve Forbes said it was not up to Gingrich to decide who stays in the race. ``The voters make that decision, not political leaders,'' said Forbes, who was campaigning in New England.

Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar said he would reassess his candidacy after today's primaries but rejected suggestions that Dole's rivals should call it quits.

Buchanan's new 60-second radio ad examines Dole's Senate voting record on taxes, crime and Supreme Court nominations, finishing with the tag line: ``No wonder Bob Dole calls himself a liberal -- he is.'' But Buchanan himself offered the assessment that if Dole keeps on winning, a ``sense of inevitability will develop.''

In Michigan, President Clinton sought to undercut the appeal of GOP rivals in a hotbed of blue-collar frustration Monday, challenging Buchanan for the support of angry working families and demanding that Congress pass a six-part plan for economic growth within 60 days.

Clinton even threw in a slap at Forbes, hailing the record number of self-made millionaires created during the Clinton presidency as ``a great thing'' in contrast to ``somebody being given an inheritance.''

The President decried unnamed purveyors of division, declaring that America need not become ``a swarm of isolated individuals'' who think ``we can only advance if our neighbors fall back'' or ``only be important if we can somehow diminish the significance of others who share this land with us.''

And Clinton, troubled by the gnawing insecurity of middle-class voters, demanded more responsibility Monday from companies that lay off workers ``even when their profits are going up.''

Clinton, who attended two fund-raisers afterward, raised nearly $2 million for his campaign and local Democrats before leaving for Washington.

Gingrich had said he would not endorse any candidate because of his hopes of chairing the Republican National Convention. But over the weekend, there were indications he would disclose his vote.

Before Dole flew to Atlanta to speak at a recycling plant, Gingrich insisted to reporters his vote would remain a secret. But that was news to Dole, who offhandedly thanked the Georgia Republican for ``voting absentee for Bob Dole this morning.''

When reporters pressed Dole on how he knew this, he replied, ``I read it in The New York Times.'' Later, an aide said that Gingrich had disclosed his intentions in a private conversation with Dole in the past week. But the aide couldn't say if Dole had Gingrich's permission to disclose his vote.

Gingrich eventually issued a statement that said: ``I would never reject the gratitude of the next president. Bob Dole is a close personal friend and great leader. Together we passed the balanced budget, tax cuts and welfare reform, which when he is president will all be signed into law. And, I did vote for him this morning.''