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If GOP right unites, Bush may lose lead

A new survey of top Republican activists has news - both good and bad - for Vice-President George Bush. The good news: Mr. Bush remains far ahead in his quest for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination.

The bad news: Bush's supporters aren't very excited about it.

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The survey, run by two professors from Furman University, sampled more than 1,000 major contributors to Republican causes. The donors represent a cross-section of Republicans most active in politics across the United States. John C. Green, one of those who ran the survey, says it shows Bush ``ripe to be kicked over'' by one of his challengers for the White House.

Only 54 percent of those favoring Bush said they felt ``very close'' to him. If he stumbles, the survey indicates that his support among Republican activists could quickly melt away. In contrast, 85 percent of those who favor Rep. Jack Kemp of New York have ``intense feelings'' about his campaign. The figure is even higher, 97 percent, for the Rev. Pat Robertson.

Dr. Green suggests that one reason Bush remains so far ahead is that the party's right wing has failed to unite behind one candidate. Some conservatives favor Congressman Kemp, some support Mr. Robertson, and others back retired Gen. Alexander Haig, former Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, or Sen. William Armstrong of Colorado.

The leading candidate of the conservatives appears to be Mr. Kemp. Professor Green says that ``if the right wing could pull together, Kemp could be number 2.''

Among other major findings:

Robertson appears to be drawing new contributors into the party, especially farmers and skilled workers.

Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, second in the polls behind Bush, also has a relatively small group (52 percent) of hard-core support among his contributors.

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Former Sen. Howard Baker Jr., just chosen as President Reagan's chief of staff, would have faced a very difficult, uphill struggle for the nomination.

Though Bush generates little enthusiasm, only 2 percent of Republican contributors say they could not support him if he got the nomination.

Robertson and Senator Helms are the most divisive. Some 20 percent of all GOP contributors say they could not support Robertson if he got the nomination, 25 percent could not support Helms. There's also strong opposition to General Haig.

The average contributor in the survey earns over $100,000 a year and is well-educated. All gave more than $100 in the 1984 campaign, and nearly half of them also did volunteer work for Reagan that year.

The survey found that within that group, the most educated gravitated toward Bush. Those with no college education tended to favor Robertson. The other candidates ranged somewhere between Bush and Robertson.

Those with the highest incomes (over $500,000) were Bush fans; those with the lowest were Robertson enthusiasts. The other candidates, again, found their support more balanced between all the groups.

By occupation, Bush was strongest among professionals, Dole among chief executive officers, Kemp among professionals, Baker among CEO's, Robertson among small businessmen.

Bush had his highest support levels in the South, Dole in the East, Kemp in the East, Baker in the South, and Robertson in the South.

The Furman survey was begun in September, 1986, and will not be officially completed until May, 1987. This story is based on nearly-complete data. Also helping with the survey is Dr. James L. Guth, professor of political science at Furman.

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