2000-03-01 / Front Page

Religion Issue May Influence Bush–McCain Primary; Gore For Easy Score Over Bradley

by john toscano

Will the persistent fallout from the controversial visit by George W. Bush to a reputedly anti-Catholic university in South Carolina a month ago thwart the Texas governor’s effort to score a major victory over Arizona Senator John McCain in next Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary here in Queens and in the rest of the state?

The verdict will be in after 9 p.m. that evening when the polls close after a day of voting which will start at the customary hour of 6 a.m.

Under New York state’s voting laws, only voters registered as Republicans are eligible to vote in their party’s contests for presidential delegates pledged to support Bush or McCain.

The same rule applies to Democrats who will choose between delegates candidates supporting either Vice President Al Gore or Bill Bradley, the ex- United States Senator and New York Knicks great.

One minor party, the Green Party, also has delegate selection contests on the ballot. However, the Queens Independence Party, which is still waging a fight in the courts to determine party leadership, will not have any delegate selection activity on Tuesday’s ballot, according to an official at the Board of Elections in Manhattan.

Bush’s visit to address a student audience at Bob Jones University on Feb. 2d still loomed as a contentious issue as the primary here approached, as indicated by a letter written by Bush to Cardinal John O’Connor on Feb. 25th. The ultra conservative university is known for its anti-Catholic teaching and for its policy of forbidding interracial dating. Bush went there in a bid to attract votes from the religious right in the South Carolina primary.

However, McCain blasted him for not separating himself from the school’s anti-Catholic policies and it has continued to haunt the besieged erstwhile frontrunner in the campaign.

In his letter to Cardinal O’Connor, Bush expressed regrets for not speaking out against the Bob Jones University’s anti-Catholic reputation. He said he should have disassociated himself from the school’s ultra-conservative and discriminatory policies.

The admitted error by Bush could weigh heavily on how the 46 percent of Catholics in the state’s Republican ranks vote on Tuesday. Here in Queens, the Bob Jones U. visit by Bush could become a factor in Republican strong holds in the Middle Village–Glendale area Woodside and in Whitestone–College Point.

However, the GOP’s longstanding strength in those areas could pull Bush through. Among those seeking delegate positions in those areas are state Senator Serphin Maltese, the Queens Republican leader; City Council Minority Leader Thomas Ognibene, second in command to Maltese in the county leadership structure; Marge Adams and Dennis Gallagher, top party officials; Woodside leader Ed Coyne, and Whitestone leader Philip Ragusa.

None of their opponents enjoy the same high name recognitition the veteran GOP pols possess, nor the large number of supporters from the party’s membership ranks. These factors could save the day for Bush, who will benefit from heavy party support from Governor George Pataki on down.

Weighing against Bush’s chances is the momentum built up by McCain in the several primaries preceding the New York state encounter. But in these other primaries, McCain benefitted by Democratic and independent voter participation, which is allowed in the so-called "open primaries." New York state’s "closed primary," however, eliminates McCain’s ability to get votes from anyone other than an enrolled Republican and this will make Tuesday’s voting a true test of the candidates’ standing among Republican Party members.

It should be noted, however, that the votes will be cast on Tuesday directly for the candidate for a delegate position and not in the name of either of the would-be presidential candidates. While the vote totals for Bush and McCain might be close, it is still expected that Bush will capture most of the 96 delegates up for grabs.

In the Democratic primary voting, Gore is expected to score by a wide margin over Bradley. As in Bush’s case in the Republican races, Gore has the backing of the regular Democratic organization in Queens headed by Thomas Manton. This advantage is reflected by the high number of easily recognized Democratic public officials and party leaders who are among those seeking delegate spots.

These include City Councilmember Helen Marshall and Assemblymembers Jeffrion Aubry and Michael Cohen and district leaders Helen Sears, James Lisa and Gloria DeMarco Aloise. It’s expected Manton will employ a robust voter-turnout effort to ensure that party supporters will get to the polls to vote for these delegates and other Gore-committed delegates to protect Gore’s advantage over Bradley.

In comparison to Bush, Gore should have an easier time winning on Tuesday. Bush’s problem is that, in addition to winning, he’s got to score a major victory over McCain, commensurate with the heavy support he enters the race with and in order to slow down the McCain bandwagon.

In the Green Party contests there are four factions seeking to elect presidential delegates. One of the groups is running committed to Ralph Nader, the nationally known consumer advocate.

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