WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton put his front-running Democratic presidential campaign back on track yesterday with a sweep of three primaries, including a crucial victory in New York.
The Arkansas governor appeared to gain the primary sweep he needed to set himself on a glide path to the nomination. In addition to New York he won Kansas and Wisconsin, and in a non-binding primary in Minnesota he held a narrow lead with 89 percent of the vote reported.
In a surprise, former candidate Paul E. Tsongas beat out Jerry Brown for second place in New York. Mr. Tsongas, whose name remained on the ballot even though he quit the race three weeks ago, was to announce tomorrow or Friday whether he is restarting his campaign.
Mr. Clinton, in a theatrical victory display at a New York nightclub, called this week "a turning point." His supporters hailed his performance as evidence the Democratic contest was all but over, though it could take weeks or months for him to pile up enough delegates to clinch the nomination.
"The last two weeks have been like a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone. . . . Now that I've been through it all, I've got to admit, I had a ball," a buoyant but hoarse Mr. Clinton told a rally at The Ritz. "This may be the best New York story since the Amazing Mets [won the pennant] in 1969. Their slogan back then should be our motto tonight: 'You gotta believe.' "
The leadership of the national party, eager for an end to the increasingly ugly Democratic race, echoed the Clinton line.
Democratic National Chairman Ronald H. Brown declared Mr. Clinton a three-state winner last night even before results in Wisconsin were in.
The party chairman said on Cable News Network that Mr. Clinton's showing was "a major step in his quest to become the nominee of the Democratic Party."
But even as the chairman was trying to bring the intraparty fight to a close, there were signs the contest would not only continue indefinitely but could widen.
Former Governor Brown said last night that Pennsylvania, which holds the next major primary, on April 28, was "a state we have to win." But he also told supporters in New York City that he would stay in the race for "as long as it takes," giving no sign that he might quit before the June 2 primary in his home state of California.
Meantime, Mr. Tsongas postponed a news conference scheduled for today, at which he had been expected to announce his plans. Speaking to reporters outside his Lowell, Mass., home last night, he said he had promised supporters that he would take at least another day to analyze the latest results.
"Let me say, the message survives," Mr. Tsongas said, describing the vote that he received yesterday as unprecedented. "I thought we would do well. I didn't think we would do this well."
But the former senator said he had no intention of becoming "a spoiler," and exit-poll data gave little encouragement to those who still hope he could become the nominee. Almost half of Mr. Tsongas' support was actually a "none of the above" protest vote against the other two candidates, rather than a positive one for the former Massachusetts senator, the poll indicated.
Indeed, in the Kansas primary, where Mr. Clinton was the victor, an uncommitted line was running a close race for second with Mr. Tsongas and Mr. Brown.
The result was similar on the Republican side in Kansas. President Bush easily defeated Patrick J. Buchanan, who was running third, behind uncommitted, in early returns.
Mr. Bush also won the GOP primaries in Wisconsin and Minnesota. There was no GOP primary in New York, where party officials made sure Mr. Bush faced no opposition, while Minnesota Democrats held a presidential "beauty contest."
Mr. Bush, who has adopted an above-the-fray posture after being embarrassed by Mr. Buchanan in the early primaries, went to the theater last night in Washington, rather than following the returns at the White House.
"Today's results are another endorsement of our proposals for fundamental reform," said a White House statement released in the president's name. "While the Democrats offer only confusion, we are earning a mandate to change America as we changed the world."
But displeasure with Mr. Bush's performance as president, and dismay over the choice of candidates that was being offered, was the message sent by many voters -- and non-voters -- yesterday.
In Kansas, traditionally one of the most Republican states in the nation, 43 percent of GOP primary voters gave Mr. Bush an unfavorable job rating, while 51 percent rated him favorably.
Continuing a trend that was evident in earlier primary states, most of those who bothered to vote said they wished someone else was running. Two-thirds of primary voters in New York yearned for someone else to get in, the exit poll found.
Nonetheless, Mr. Bush will clinch the GOP nomination early next month, and, for Democratic "wannabes," it is too late to enter all but one of the remaining primaries.
Mr. Clinton began yesterday with 1,101 delegates, while Mr. Brown was far behind with 166 and Mr. Tsongas had 439. It takes 2,145 to win the nomination; a total of 362 Democratic delegates were at stake in yesterday's primaries.
Mr. Clinton now seems likely to pull within reach of a delegate majority after the final primaries are held in early June. But he will probably still need the support of several hundred party leaders and elected officials, who attend the convention as unpledged delegates.
Most of those party insiders have thus far refused to fall in behind the 45-year-old Arkansan's candidacy.
And while Mr. Clinton appears to have survived, in New York, perhaps the last major hurdle to the nomination, exit polls BTC
confirmed that many Democrats continue to have doubts about him. Asked if they believed Mr. Clinton had the honesty and integrity to be president, fully half the Democratic primary voters in New York said he did not.
Voter turnout in New York appeared to be off sharply, especially among blacks. Blacks cast only about 18 percent of the votes in yesterday's Democratic primary, compared with 27 percent four years ago, when the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson was running, according to the exit polls.
Mr. Brown's highly publicized offer to make Mr. Jackson his running mate helped the Californian cut sharply into Mr. Clinton's support among blacks, the first time that has happened in a primary this year.
Exit polls showed Mr. Brown within 13 points of Mr. Clinton among blacks.
In previous primary states, Mr. Clinton had carried the black vote by lopsided margins of up to 75 percent over his nearest rival. Last month, in the big round of Southern primaries, Mr. Clinton defeated Mr. Brown by 81 percent to 7 percent among blacks.
Mr. Clinton accused Mr. Brown yesterday of using smear tactics in an effort to win black votes.
"Jerry Brown compared my state to South Africa in an 11th-hour mailing to the black community, in one of the more gutless things I've ever seen a politician do," said Mr. Clinton.
In the often bitter New York campaign, Mr. Brown repeatedly attacked Mr. Clinton over the lack of a state civil rights act in Arkansas, but he denied any knowledge of the purported mailing.
Mr. Brown's embrace of Mr. Jackson seemed to have been a net loser yesterday, at least in New York. Fully half the Democratic voters reacted unfavorably to the notion of Mr. Jackson as vice president, the exit poll found.
That was especially true among Jews, who cast more than one-fourth of the Democratic vote in New York.
Mr. Clinton was their clear choice, receiving fully half the Jewish vote, while Mr. Tsongas got about one-third.
Mr. Brown received less than one-tenth of the Jewish vote.
New Yorkers took a sharply negative view of Mr. Brown personally, with almost three in five saying that he was not level-headed and practical enough to be president.
They also turned thumbs down on his flat-tax plan, which got heavy scrutiny in New York for the first time in the campaign.
Critics say the proposal would hit poor and middle-income taxpayers hard, while providing a windfall for the rich.
Almost half the New York Democrats -- 48 percent -- said the plan would be less fair than the current tax system, while one-fifth said it would be fairer.
.. .. .. .. BROWN .. .. .. CLINTON .. .. .. TSONGAS
New York .. 26%.. .. .. .. 41%. .. .. .. .. 29%
Wisconsin.. 35%.. .. .. .. 38%. .. .. .. .. 22%
Kansas.. .. 13%.. .. .. .. 51%. .. .. .. .. 15%
Minnesota.. 32%.. .. .. .. 33%. .. .. .. .. 23%
.. .. .. .. BUCHANAN .. .. .. BUSH
New York .. *% .. .. .. .. .. *%
Wisconsin . 17%.. .. .. .. .. 77%
Kansas.. .. 15%.. .. .. .. .. 62%
Minnesota.. 25%.. .. .. .. .. 68%
*No Republican primary.
Based on incomplete returns