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President Looks South and Sees Support Eroding

Buchanan on his mind, Bush braces for possible embarrassment in Georgia primary

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THE polls, the pundits, and the Washington insiders all agree: George Bush's political troubles are growing rapidly.

Even in the Deep South, the bedrock of Mr. Bush's support, the White House is bracing for potentially embarrassing primaries against the president's election-year nemesis, Patrick Buchanan.

The next test comes on Tuesday when Republicans hold primaries in Georgia, Maryland, and Colorado. But all eyes will be on Georgia, where Mr. Buchanan is pouring in money and manpower.

Del Ali, a pollster with Mason-Dixon Opinion Research, predicts after sampling Republican voters in Georgia that Buchanan is poised to get an impressive 35 percent at the polls.

Claibourne Darden Jr., an Atlanta pollster, warns that if Buchanan's insurgent conservative campaign reaches the mid-30s in Georgia, Bush could be in severe danger across the South a week later on Super Tuesday.

Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, says the coming vote in Georgia is "very dicey for Bush." Dr. Black says Bush's core supporters - white independent voters and hard-core Republicans - are beginning to abandon the president.

What is happening? Mr. Darden says the pro-Buchanan vote is mostly a protest against Bush. But the protest movement coalescing around Buchanan now appears to be in danger of spinning out of control.

If Bush is humiliated in Georgia and takes further hits on Super Tuesday, the protest vote could turn into an "anybody but Bush" movement among Republicans, Darden says. That would severely damage the GOP next fall. (Tsongas' economic plan, Page 2.)

Republican strategist John Sears says Bush's popularity, and perhaps his electability, is being driven downward by a pervasive mood of pessimism in the United States, especially about the economy. Layoffs at General Motors Corporation and other big companies, the transfer of jobs to Mexico, the closing of big banks, and rising unemployment all are creating a bleak atmosphere.

Mr. Sears says the current national pessimism, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is "unlike anything in my lifetime." It probably isn't as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s, he says, but it is very serious.

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