Appealing to the conservative Louisiana Republicans who will cast the first votes of the 1996 Presidential campaign, three candidates today emphasized their common opposition to abortion and affirmative action while stressing their qualifications for unseating President Clinton.
Speaking to the state Republican convention here, two of the candidates, Patrick J. Buchanan and Alan Keyes, emphasized their abilities as communicators and said that Mr. Clinton's State of the Union Message this week demonstrated that the Republican Party needed a skilled orator.
Let's face it, he's an effective communicator," Mr. Buchanan said. "If we're going to beat this man, and we've got to beat him for the good of this country, we're going to have to put up against him someone who can put him in the crossfire and take this fellow apart."
The third candidate, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, underscored the need to nominate a candidate who could revive the Reagan coalition of independents, conservative Democrats and blue-collar workers.
"To beat Bill Clinton, we're going to have to have a candidate who can communicate with people who get their hands dirty working for a living," he said.
With Senator Bob Dole, the front-runner in the Republican race, and Steve Forbes, an emerging challenger, both choosing not to compete in the Louisiana caucuses early next month, there were few direct references to those candidates in the New Orleans Convention Center today. But all three candidates continued to insist that an alternative was needed if the Republicans expected to gain control of the White House.
"This guy lies, but he lies with passion," Mr. Keyes said of Mr. Clinton. "He lies with a certain conviction." If the Republicans challenge Mr. Clinton with "a bone-dry, heartless representative of truth, you tell me where we're going to end up," he added.
Both Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Gramm also voiced their support for Michael New, the Army medic who was court-martialed this week for refusing to wear a United Nations insignia or cap when his unit was deployed on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Macedonia.
Mr. Buchanan said that if he won the Presidency, "never again will young Americans be sent into battle except to fight under American officers and the American flag."
Similarly, Mr. Gramm pledged, "I want you to know as President I will never send Americans into combat under U.N. command."
Louisiana's caucuses on Feb. 6 will be the first delegate-selection contest of the 1996 Republican Presidential campaign. State Republican officials, eager to give their state a voice in national politics, bumped their caucus date ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 12 and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 20.
On Friday, a Federal court rejected a lawsuit that posed the final legal obstacle to the early date. The lawsuit, filed by Morry Taylor, a Republican Presidential candidate, contended that the caucuses were illegal because the Louisiana Republicans had not obtained Federal approval under the Voting Rights Act to change the date.
Louisiana's effort to increase its relevance in the Presidential campaign calendar has been only partly successful. Out of deference to Iowa, Mr. Dole, Mr. Forbes and other candidates have chosen to skip the Louisiana event. That has reduced the caucuses to a contest between three conservatives seeking to emerge as the leading right-wing challenger to Mr. Dole.
Because the caucuses will place a premium on organization and motivation, Christian conservatives are expected to play a significant role in the voting.
Ralph Reed, the director of the Christian Coalition, rallied those troops today with a speech to the convention, which was attended by more than 1,000 people. "They will call us fanatics, extremist, Christian Coalition types," he said. "Well, we have our own names for those kinds of candidates. We call them governor, mayor, Congressman and school board member."
The caucuses will choose 21 of Louisiana's 30 delegates to the Republican National Convention in San Diego, with the other nine allocated according to the results of a primary on March 12.