His home state of Connecticut gave George Bush a desperately needed victory tonight -- a win over Ronald Reagan that will enable Bush to carry his challenge into the April primaries in Wisconsin, Kansas and Pennsylvania.
But Reagan reaped a rich reward of delegates in New York, and lengthened his lead over the runner-up in the battle for the Republican nomination.
In winning his third primary of the year, compared to eight for Reagan, Bush kept the GOP contest open for at least another month.
Rep. John B. Anderson, whose late-starting campaign in Connecticut was seen as a spoiler effort by Bush, took his expected third place -- but not enough votes to deprive Bush of a narrow victory.
Complete, unofficial returns gave Bush 69,845 votes, or 38.6 percent; Reagan 60,959, or 33.7 percent, and Anderson 40,315, or 22.3 percent. Another 5.4 percent went to uncommitted and minor candidates.
While Bush was winning Connecticut, where he lived most of the first 25 years of his life before moving to Texas, Reagan was boosting his overall delegate lead in the Gop primary in New York, where only delegate names were on the ballot and most districts had no contests.
With 98 percent of the New York precincts reporting, Reagan had won 73 delegates, Bush 6 and 38 were uncommitted.
In Connecticut, where delegates were apportioned according to the popular vote, Bush seemed likely to get 16, Reagan 13 and Anderson 6.
But Connecticut was a straight test of Republican sentiment, and a critical one for Bush, who had won only Massachusetts and Puerto Rico after his initial upset of Reagan in the January Iowa caucuses.
Reagan, meantime, had steamrollered the Republican field with victories in New Hampshire, Vermont, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Illinois that drove all the contenders except Bush and Anderson to the sidelines and caused former president Gerald R. Ford to conclude that a late challenge from him would be futile.
David Sparks, one of Bush's top aides, said the Connecticut victory "lets us up off the mat."
Reagan, who has become more used to winning GOP primaries than to losing them, said his showing in Connecticut matched the "high expectations" he talked about when he won in Illinois a week ago.
"This is George's backyard," Reagan said. "My high expectations were that we would come out of Connecticut with a good chunk of delegates, and we're going to do that." in 1976, when Connecticut chose delegates by convention, Reagan failed to win a delegate.
Reagan said he was happy about reports from New York, which were fragmentary and inconclusive at the time he met with reporters in Longview, Tex.
"I think I'm going to have a majority in New York -- a tremendous win there with the delegates," Reagan said.
Reagan seemed more interested in Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's victories tonight in New York and Connecticut than in the outcome of the GOP primaries.
"I think the news is in the other party tonight," Reagan said, adding that he still expected President Carter to be the Democratic nominee but thought Kennedy would stay in the race longer because of tonight's victories.
Carter "may get out of that Rose Garden yet," Reagan said.
From the Reagan point of view, the Kennedy victories were welcome, because they are expected to keep liberal Democrats from crossing over the Wisconsin GOP primary to vote for Anderson, Reagan's most serious rival in that state.
In Madison, Wis., James A. Baker III, Bush's campaign manager, said today's results in both parties showed "there is a lot of voter volatility out there, and it is a long haul to the GOP convention in Detroit. Our goal has always been to become the alternative to Ronald Reagan, and this is a step in that direction."
Bush and Anderson challenge Reagan next Tuesday in Wisconsin, where both rules and tradition invite independents and Democrats to cross over, if they wish, into the Republican contest. No crossover voting was allowed in Connecticut or New York.
That may work to Anderson's advantage because he has made some of his best showings -- second place -- in states such as Massachusetts and Illinois where crossovers are permitted. He also finished second in Vermont, where crossovers are not permitted.
Bush is now focused on the April 22 contest in Pennsylvania, where Anderson is not on the ballot because his supporters failed to file the 1,000 needed petition signatures.
There, finally, Bush will have the one-on-one, contest with Reagan he has been seeking since the campaign began -- and in a state that, like Massachusetts and Connecticut, has a tradition of supporting moderate Republicans.
Bush aides said before the Connecticut vote that the three-week period between the Wisconsin and Kansas primaries and the Pennsylvania vote would give him a chance to sharpen his issue differences with Reagan -- a process that Bush began belatedly after his drubbing in New Hampshire and has managed with increasing effectiveness since.
Bush aides also noted that, with the prolongation of his campaign into heavy media states like Pennsylvania, Bush's financial edge over Reagan may become more of a factor.
Reagan has been forced to cut back staff, spending and travel because he has used well over two-thirds of the money he is allowed to spend through the Republican convention in July. Bush, on the other hand, has spent slightly more than half of his quota and has at least $2.5 million of federal matching funds coming in the next few weeks.
Nonetheless, Reagan remains far out front in the most vital measure -- the delegate count. Coming into tonight, he had 209 delegates, to 47 for Bush and 38 for Anderson, with 40 scattered among other candidates and uncommitteds. It will take 998 delegates for nomination in Detroit.
An ABC News poll of Connecticut Republican voters indicated that a key to Bush's success was his ability to break even with Reagan among those who called themselves conservatives. In states like New Hampshire and Illinois, conservative Republicans went overwhelmingly for Reagan.
An ABC News poll in Connecticut showed Bush winning the suburban towns, and white-collar and Protestant voters, while Reagan had an edge among Italians, Catholics, union familes and low-income Republicans.
While New York offered far more delegates than Connecticut -- 123 to 35 -- the peculiarities of the New York primary and Bush's family ties to Connecticut made the latter state the premier battleground.
New York elected three delegates from each of its 39 districts, with the final six at-large delegates to be chosen later.
But the Republican ballot offered no direct presidential preference poll, and the delegate slates were uncontested in 26 of the 39 districts, in effect, canceling the primary in two-thirds of the state.
Most of the contests were in New York City, where Reagan and Bush slates were contesting in nine of the 16 districts, and uncommitted slates were battling pledged delegates in several others. Anderson had only one pledged delegate on the ballot in the whole state.