MIXED RETURNS from the Arizona and Dakota primaries give some credence to the prospect of a wide open Republican National Convention in San Diego next August. If none of the four leading contenders can lock up the 996 delegates required for nomination, there could be a throwback to such memorable conventions as Wendell Willkie's thriller in 1940, the Eisenhower-Taft battle over who could vote from Texas in 1952 and the Kennedy-Johnson race to the wire in 1960.
Such an outcome is still remote -- Maryland Rep. Connie Morella calls it a "pipe dream" -- given the nature of politics in a TV-dominated era. Yet her colleague, Rep. Bob Ehrlich, reports that a number of House Republicans are intrigued with the idea and are even talking up a favorite alumnus, Jack Kemp. Other names mentioned are Gen. Colin Powell, former Vice President Dan Quayle, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and Michigan Gov. John Engler.
What gives rise to this far-out speculation is the king-of-the-week pattern that has emerged in the early GOP contests. Last week it was Pat Buchanan, this week Steve Forbes. After the South Carolina primary Saturday and "Junior Tuesday" next week (including the Maryland primary) Bob Dole or Lamar Alexander could be grasping for the weekly crown.
In measuring Tuesday's results, it is clear that the big winner was a resurgent Steve Forbes and the big loser was populist Pat Buchanan. Mr. Forbes won all of Arizona's 39 delegates with a $4 million blitz of TV ads while Mr. Buchanan finished a disappointing third after campaigning hard. This blunted his New Hampshire momentum and underscored his inability to get more than a third of the Republican vote by baiting the GOP Establishment.
Senator Dole failed to recapture his front-runner status but he did win handily in North and South Dakota and, more important, beat out Mr. Buchanan for the second-place spot in Arizona. If he can avoid a setback in South Carolina, his campaign may regain its footing. Mr. Dole's chances would improve immensely if Mr. Alexander does only so-so in his native South in the next fortnight and is forced from the race. Both of these mainstream candidates are convinced they would beat Mr. Buchanan if the mainstream vote were not split among them and Mr. Forbes.
This newspaper continues to believe Senator Dole is the class of the field and urges Maryland Republicans to give him their support.