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CANDIDATES BRACE FOR SUPER TUESDAY

Paul Tsongas and Bill Clinton fanned out across Florida Monday in last-minute appeals for Super Tuesday support, each hoping to capitalize on the departure of Tom Harkin from the Democratic presidential field.

President Bush shrugged off questions about the staying power of his GOP rival, Patrick Buchanan, calling attention to what he called a "fantastic" weekend victory in South Carolina and predicting he'd have another good day on Tuesday.Harkin, an Iowa senator who portrayed himself as the heir apparent to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal social policy, pulled out of the race in the face of a string of poor showings and a $300,000 debt. "My advisers told me not to peak too soon. I think I took them too seriously," Harkin said.

Harkin, who criticized his Democratic rivals sharply during the race, said in leaving he would do whatever he could to assist any of them to victory over Bush this fall.

He became the third Democrat to drop out, following Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who quit before any votes were cast, and Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, whose poor showings compelled him to leave the race last week.

That leaves Clinton, the Arkansas governor; Tsongas, a former Massachusetts senator, and former California Gov. Jerry Brown as the Democrats heading into Super Tuesday. Brown won a strong victory in Nevada's Democratic caucuses Sunday night.

Democrats compete in 11 states and Republicans in eight on Tuesday. In all, 783 Democratic delegates and 421 Republican delegates are up for grabs.

On Saturday, Clinton dominated the Democratic field in South Carolina with 63 percent of the vote.

Clinton also won in Wyoming on Saturday and placed a strong second to Tsongas in Arizona. Clinton picked up more delegates in Arizona than Tsongas despite the second-place showing.

Bush, meanwhile, scored a 67 percent victory in South Carolina, extending his string of shutouts but still encountering the roughly one-third protest vote he has seen in each primary this season.

Buchanan trailed in South Carolina with 26 percent, and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was a distant third with 7 percent.

Bush, returning to the White House Monday morning from Camp David, Md., shrugged off questions about why Buchanan was staying in the race.

"I thought Saturday was fantastic, and I think we'll have a good day tomorrow," the president said.

Buchanan said Monday that, while Bush "is winning a mathematical number of the delegates," he will to continue to wage his uphill campaign beyond Super Tuesday. "We are the ones gaining recruits. Our campaign has all of the energy and excitement. The money is pouring in more to our campaign than to his," Buchanan said on CBS "This Morning."

Buchanan, campaigning Monday in Rhode Island, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana, said he has already succeeded in moving the president and the party more to the right.

But his aides were disappointed that the conservative commentator has yet to better his 37 percent second-place finish in New Hampshire. He won 36 percent of the vote in Georgia last Tuesday.

Buchanan strategists are looking beyond Super Tuesday toward a showdown on March 17 in Michigan, hoping an upset there could energize his flagging campaign as Ronald Reagan's victory in North Carolina did for him in 1976.

Over the weekend, the Democrats sniped at each other over economic policy and their own campaign styles and courted the black vote, where Tsongas acknowledges he's far behind.

Clinton got 75 percent of the black vote in South Carolina on Sunday, according to exit polls; Tsongas received only 3 percent. "We are far behind on this curve," Tsongas said Sunday.

Clinton, meanwhile, defended his involvement in a real estate deal with the owner of a failed savings and loan. "There was nothing inappropriate," he said in Austin.

At issue was Clinton's half-interest in a real estate corporation with a longtime friend who later bought a controlling interest in a savings and loan.

The New York Times reported the real estate deal in a Sunday story that said Clinton and his wife, Hillary, were at little financial risk because the S&L owner, James McDougal, heavily subsidized the corporation.

But Clinton said that, in fact, he and his wife lost money.

Brown, holding a copy of the New York Times at a campaign stop in Oklahoma, said the Clinton story shows the Arkansas governor believes he is above the law.

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(Additional story)

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown won a clear-cut victory over his two rivals in the Nevada Democratic caucuses. Brown received 35 percent of the vote, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton had 26 percent and former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas had 20 percent. Another 17 percent were uncommitted. In the delegate race, Brown had 6, Clinton 5, Tsongas 3, uncommitted 3.