Bush likely to win in Iowa

Forbes may be second in poll that money turned into top story

GOP rivals pray for upset

August 14, 1999|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

AMES, Iowa -- Gov. George W. Bush of Texas and Steve Forbes are favored to finish first and second today in a Republican straw poll of nine presidential candidates that has mushroomed into the top political story of 1999, a full year before the party's nominating convention.

The vote means nothing in terms of delegates to that convention. But interest generated by the amount of money poured into the contest by Bush and Forbes, and by aggressive organizing by most of the other candidates, has boosted late estimates of the voter turnout to 15,000 or more Iowans. Four years ago, just under 11,000 cast straw ballots.

"This is perceived like the first primary of 2000," another candidate, Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative commentator, said yesterday. The results of the straw poll, Buchanan said, "will have a traumatic effect on some campaigns" because they won't be able to raise money if they don't do well.

But he and the others all vowed to press on, no matter where they finish in today's vote.

On the eve of the balloting, Bush was running well ahead and Forbes was second in a poll of 300 probable attendees at next winter's Iowa caucuses -- the state party's official process for selecting delegates to the 2000 national convention.

Bush was at 37 percent and Forbes at 14.6 percent in the poll conducted by PSI Research of Alexandria, Va., for a consortium of local TV stations.

As much as their standing in the polls, the money they have spent has established Bush and Forbes as the favorites.

The Bush campaign, with an amazing $30 million on hand, has hired more than 100 buses to bring its supporters to the voting site on the campus of Iowa State University here. The campaign will serve them a Texas barbecue and provide celebrity entertainment in a tent erected on a choice spot, for which it paid a reported $43,500 to the state party.

Forbes' campaign, with the multimillionaire publisher paying out of his own pockets, has hired nearly as many buses and will also offer a barbecue and star entertainment. Forbes has run an energetic personal campaign, covering 6,000 miles across the state and back by bus and spending heavily on radio and TV ads, unmatched by Bush or any of the others.

Yesterday, Forbes, Buchanan and Lamar Alexander worked the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, as most of the others have done in the past two days.

With farm production high and prices so low that farmers are selling produce and livestock at a loss, all the candidates have denounced the Clinton administration and pledged more aid for farmers and more open markets if they are elected.

All the campaigns are providing free tickets to today's event, for which the state party is charging them $25 apiece. There has been some grumbling by the campaigns that the state party is milking them, but they are all kicking in.

Besides Bush and Forbes, most of the other contenders -- Buchanan; former Vice President Dan Quayle; former Cabinet secretaries Alexander and Elizabeth Hanford Dole; Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah; Gary Bauer, a conservative activist; and Alan Keyes, a Reagan administration official -- all of whom polled under 10 percent in the same survey, bused in supporters, though in smaller fleets.

A 10th Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, is not participating in the straw poll, strengthening speculation that he may not compete in the later Iowa caucuses, either. McCain is opposed to federal subsidies for ethanol, a fuel byproduct of corn, the state's biggest crop, and that position would severely hinder McCain's campaign here, many Iowans say.

Each of the nine participating candidates will have 10 minutes to speak in the Hilton Coliseum, after which voting by machine will begin at adjoining locations and is to run for more than six hours. Only ticket-holders who are Iowa residents and will be old enough to vote on Nov. 7, 2000, the next presidential Election Day, are eligible.

Monitors are to check personal identifications to bar voting by out-of-staters, who were bused in for the Republican straw poll four years ago, from as far away as Texas. They helped Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas achieve a first-place tie with Bob Dole, the eventual Republican nominee. Gramm stumbled thereafter, wound up fifth in the 1996 Iowa caucuses and dropped out of the race.

For all the hoopla, the fact remains that the Iowa Republican straw poll is an unreliable predictor of who will be the party's nominee. In 1987, George Bush finished third behind Pat Robertson and Buchanan, yet was ultimately nominated in 1988. So was Bob Dole in 1996, despite his embarrassing tie with Gramm in the straw poll here in 1995.

Though campaign cash serves as a lubricant for organizing tools -- from phone banks and direct mailings to tickets, star entertainment and transportation -- diligent grass-roots efforts and issue commitment can also pay off.

For this reason, some campaign managers for rival candidates are suggesting that if there is a sleeper in the field -- not to win but to provide a surprise -- it could be Bauer, the darling of the anti-abortion and other conservative forces. Others say Dole will do well, based on her appeal to women and as the wife of the popular winner of the 1996 Iowa caucuses.

The Forbes campaign hopes to use the straw poll to create a public perception that the race is already narrowing to the two money candidates -- himself and Bush.

But other conservative candidates -- Quayle, Buchanan, Bauer, Hatch and Keyes -- are vying to be the right-wing alternative to Bush. The others -- Dole, Alexander and the absent McCain -- are competing to be seen as the moderate alternative.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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