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LOOK FOR BUSH-CLINTON RACE THIS FALL

Barring some disastrous event, President Bush will be matched against Bill Clinton in November. The outcome will turn on the vote in California.

I wrote early on Super Tuesday, but I ventured these predictions, anyhow. Clinton will have won a great bundle of Democratic delegates - enough for him to sound the cry of "all aboard." The race is all but over.Bob Kerrey and Tom Harkin have dropped out. Neither one of them ever had a real prospect of winning.

Kerrey had little to run on, apart from his valiant service in Vietnam and his Medal of Honor. He has set no fires as a U.S. senator; his record as governor of Nebraska was not especially impressive. As a campaigner he left an impression of a nice guy, but.

Harkin's assets were as limited. Running as the "only true Democrat" in the New Deal tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harkin offered large promises to a small audience. His foremost accomplishment as a senator - an accomplishment I have warmly applauded - is the Americans With Disabilities Act. Many business people, especially those with small companies, see the act as one more burden to bear. So much for Harkin.

What makes Clinton the almost certain nominee? His remaining opposition is weak. He has the money to sustain his campaign. As his momentum builds, he will look more electable - and that's what politics is all about.

Paul Tsongas, the onetime senator from Massachusetts, has been getting a free ride. Everybody loves an underdog. Tsongas has captivated the press corps by talking sense. The novelty leaves reporters speechless.

Novelty alone will not prevail. A great many voters see Tsongas as another Michael Dukakis - one more liberal from Massachusetts. And it takes big money to mount an effective campaign; Tsongas doesn't have it.

Money is Jerry Brown's problem also - one of Brown's problems. His big problem is an image that won't go away. It is the image of Brown, the California snowflake, who as governor slept in a cheap apartment instead of the governor's mansion. Brown is a brilliant fellow in some ways, but brilliance is best appreciated at a distance. Brown will win a couple of hundred delegates in California in June. Too little, too late.

That brings to Clinton, the Super Tuesday sensation. He is racking up committed delegates to the New York convention. So far, he is playing his cards skillfully. Analysts will pore over Tuesday's returns, looking for evidence of serious weakness.

Nothing substantive appeared in South Carolina's primary Saturday. Democratic voters, hungry for a winner, appeared willing to overlook both adultery and draft avoidance. The state prides itself on its military heritage; it has a large population of fundamentalist Protestants. Clinton won 63 percent.

Momentum isn't everything in a presidential campaign. Other factors count heavily - a candidate's personality, his TV commercials, his wit and composure in debates, the vague impression of his stand on the big issues - but momentum is a powerful locomotive.

Nothing much remains to be said on the Republican side. Wherever Bush is pitted against Patrick Buchanan, it will be Bush 65, Buchanan 35 - there or thereabouts. Patrick has the protest; George has the vote.

Every pundit hedges his predictions. One more "Big Negative" could wreck the Clinton candidacy as swiftly as it has risen. The momentum that has been flowing against Bush could bring him to defeat in the electoral college in November. It's now Bush's race to lose, Clinton's to win.