Bush attacks McCain for anti-Catholic charges
DULUTH, Georgia (CNN) -- Fresh from wins in primary states of Washington, Virginia and North Dakota, an ebullient George W. Bush tore into Republican rival John McCain at a rally in Georgia on Wednesday.
"I try not to take things personally in politics, but calling somebody an anti-Catholic bigot is beyond the reach," Bush said.
"I'm not going to tolerate that kind of campaigning," Bush said in a campaign stop. "There's no place for that in American politics."
Bush said he has "a record of being inclusive in the state of Texas." He said McCain "ought to be ashamed of running that kind of campaign. It's going to backfire on him."
Bush was referring to campaign calls he said McCain had authorized, "calling me an anti-Catholic bigot."
Georgia holds its primary next Tuesday.
McCain, campaigning at a town hall meeting in Riverside, California, focused attention on veterans' affairs and defense spending.
The Arizona senator attacked President Clinton for neglecting the armed forces.
"The military is in disarray," McCain said. "The military is not in the kind of condition we want it to be. They are not prepared for the challenges of the post-Cold War era."
Three primary wins for Bush
Bush won all three events Tuesday on a busy GOP election night, winning primaries in Virginia and Washington state and caucuses in North Dakota. Gore's success in Washington state's non-binding primary dashed the hopes of rival Bill Bradley, who spent six days courting Evergreen State voters in a bid for a badly needed campaign boost.
View results from Virginia, Washington state and North Dakota.
"Obviously I'm pleased with the victory in Virginia,
pleased with victory in North Dakota," Bush said to reporters
aboard his plane traveling from Ohio to Georgia.
Bush won by a comfortable margin in Virginia, receiving all 56 of the state's Republican primary delegates. And he picked up 14 of North Dakota's 19 delegates and 7 of Washington's 12.
"I've got some good news from the Commonwealth of Virginia," Bush told supporters earlier Tuesday night at a rally in Cincinnati. "Tonight, the people of that state sent a message that they want George W. Bush to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States."
CNN exit polls showed that Bush won the support of Republicans, conservatives, women and broke even with his chief rival -- Arizona Sen. John McCain -- among veterans in Virginia, which was one of three states holding GOP contests Tuesday. Old Dominion voters also overwhelmingly said Bush would be more likely than McCain to win a November matchup against Vice President Al Gore.
"This campaign is winning and we're doing it the right way. We are uniting our party without compromising principle. We are expanding our base without destroying our foundations," Bush added. His Virginia and North Dakota victories put his delegate tally at 208.
"I'm happy about this fight. This is a wonderful challenge and there is so much at stake," McCain told supporters at a rally in Bakersfield, California. He had called Bush to concede the Virginia contest earlier in the evening. "This has been a campaign of insurgency, a campaign of principle, and has been conducted honorably."
Virginia polls closed at 7 p.m. ET and registered voters from any party were allowed to participate as long as they signed a pledge not to vote in another party's primary.
"Tonight in an open primary, by a solid margin (that) appears to be 15 to 16 points, the voters of Virginia rejected the politics of pitting one religion against another," Bush said.
The volatile mix of religion and politics has dominated the GOP campaign in recent days, as Bush said Monday he should have spoken against anti-Catholic sentiment during his visit to Bob Jones University, a conservative, Christian college in South Carolina whose founder has called Catholicism a "satanic cult."
And McCain on Monday took aim at Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson -- on Robertson's home turf of Virginia Beach, no less -- saying the televangelist has smeared his reputation and called him an unacceptable presidential candidate. McCain called Bush a "Pat Robertson Republican."
But if McCain was hoping to energize the segment of Virginia's electorate concerned about the mix of religion and politics, his strategy may have backfired. Exit polls show religious-right voters flocked to the polls to cast their vote for Bush.
Sen. John McCain spoke Wednesday in California.
CNN exit polls showed that Bush won over voters who considered themselves part of the so-called religious right by a margin of eight to one. While that group of voters comprised only 19 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, over 80 percent of them chose Bush over McCain. Among voters who were not members of the religious right, the vote was split nearly evenly: 48 percent went to Bush and 49 percent voted for McCain.
Fully 63 percent of Tuesday's voters were Republicans, the majority of whom chose Bush. And Bush's numbers among independent voters continue to rise, potentially dashing McCain's hopes of establishing a broad voter coalition of Republicans, Democrats and independents that will carry him to the White House in November.
Bush enjoyed the support of popular Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore, the state's lone GOP senator, John Warner, and by a host of House members. He is popular with business leaders, and would even appear to have the upper hand in the northern portion of the state, where most towns and cities are considered suburban extensions of Washington, D.C.
The Texas governor has spent more than $1.2 million on ad buys in Virginia since the beginning of February. McCain recently started airing television commercials in the northern part of the state, spending some $700,000 throughout Virginia on ads since February 1.
One of three contests
The Virginia race is one of three being contested Tuesday. North Dakota is holding Republican caucuses and Washington allocates a portion of its GOP delegates, holding a non-binding preference vote for Democrats, with the actual delegates to be allocated at March 7 caucuses.
Voters in Arlington, Virginia, go to the polls.
For Republicans, 12 delegates are at stake in Washington and 19 are up for grabs in North Dakota. Unlike Virginia, those states will allocate delegates based on each candidate's percentage of the vote.
North Dakota's caucus is open, meaning Democrats and independents were allowed to cast ballots.
Candidate appearances in the state were sparse, but Bush called radio stations on Tuesday reminding voters to attend the caucuses.
"I'm urging my friends to go to the polls," Bush told KFGO
Radio of Fargo. "A lot of people are going to be watching, to see
And pre-recorded calls by of North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, a Bush supporter, were sent out to potential caucus-goers, asking them to support the Texas governor.
McCain made an appearance in Bismarck, North Dakota late Monday night.
Who's prettiest in Washington?
While McCain and Bush will also go head-to-head in Washington state today, perhaps the most attention-grabbing race on the western side of the country has shaped up between Gore and Bradley, competing for the Democratic nomination.
Bradley is hoping for a victory in the Evergreen State over Gore, who has defeated Bradley in every previous Democratic primary and caucus -- and who holds large leads over Bradley in polls of potential Democratic voters in most areas of the country. Because of large numbers of mail-in and absentee voters, Washington's results may not be known today.
Bradley has campaigned with a fierce determination in Washington, despite the fact that he stands to gain no convention delegates should he win.
The reason? Gore has won every Democratic contest in this still-young election season. Bradley is seeking a "bounce" heading into Super Tuesday next week, and his campaign staff seems to be reaching for the sort of media attention to be gained from a state primary victory.
Washington, with its largely liberal-leaning coastal and urban areas, would seem to be such a place for Bradley.
"We're looking for a slingshot effect. If we win this primary or have a very, very strong showing, the Washington caucus-goers will be reluctant to reject the will of the people," said Mo Elleithee, a Bradley spokesman. "It will be a signal to California and the rest of the country that he is viable and this thing is not wrapped up."
Gore leads Bradley among the state's registered Democrats, but through a tireless six-day stump swing through the state, Bradley has courted independent voters. Gore and Bradley are still in a dead heat for the hearts and minds of the Evergreen State's independents.
Super Tuesday strategy
The fierce rivalry between Bush and McCain continues in advance of the Super Tuesday primary on March 7, where key states such as New York, California and Ohio will select some 600 delegates -- more than half of the 1,034 needed to win the GOP nomination.
Bush has spent the six days since last week's primaries in Arizona and Michigan plying his national campaign strategy, with appearances in Virginia and Washington, but also stopping off in California and Missouri, where voters won't hit the polling places until March 7 -- Super Tuesday.
During the past week, McCain has stuck to the formula that brought him success in New Hampshire and Michigan -- more concentrated campaigning. The Arizona senator -- though he has spent some time in California -- stormed Virginia on Monday, where he made a key speech in the back yard of one of his most virulent detractors, the Rev. Pat Robertson.
The Arizona senator was back in California on Tuesday, where he held one of his patented town-hall-style meetings in Stockton. At a news conference later in the day in Stockton, McCain said he has decided to participate in Thursday's Republican debate in Los Angeles -- via satellite linkup from Kansas City or St. Louis.
McCain had said earlier that he would not participate in the candidate forum, sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times, citing scheduling difficulties. His announcement in Stockton caught many off guard, including many members of McCain's operation, who found themselves scrambling to cancel events in order to accommodate the senator's change in plans.
McCain had been scheduled to appear in Long Island, New York, on Thursday night. Instead, he will stop in Missouri en route to the East Coast to participate in the televised debate remotely.
CNN's Wayne Drash, Reuters and The
Associated Press contributed to this