Bush, Forbes take Iowa

Finish is no surprise, confirming Texan's lead in GOP nomination race

He gets 31% in record turnout

Rivals in 9-person field say governor needed 50% to legitimately claim win

August 15, 1999|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

AMES, Iowa -- In a record straw-poll turnout, Iowa voters last night confirmed the front-running status of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination with a clear victory over nine competitors. Magazine publisher Steve Forbes ran second in a day of partying, speeches and courting voters.

With 24,549 votes cast, Bush ran first with 7,418 (31 percent) to 4,921 for Forbes (21 percent). The others finished this way: Former Cabinet secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, 3,410; Gary Bauer, the conservative activist, 2,114; conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan, 1,719; former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, 1,428; Alan L. Keyes, a former Reagan administration official, 1,101; former Vice President Dan Quayle, 916; and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, 558.

Candidates who did not contest the straw poll: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, 83; Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio, nine; and Sen. Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire, eight.

Multimillionaire Forbes' second-place finish was expected, as the only candidate in the field with the financial resources -- out of his own pocket -- to match the Bush campaign treasury, which stands at $30 million after an unprecedentedly prodigious fund-raising effort this year.

The heavily favored Bush was satisfied with the result. Asked earlier what would constitute a victory for him, he told reporters: "A first-place finish is a win." Rival campaign spokesmen, however, tried to hold him to a higher standard, arguing that with all his money, party establishment support and large lead in the polls, anything less than 50 percent of the vote would be a loss. In a nine-person field, though, that would have been a most unusual accomplishment.

Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, noted that his candidate did not come into Iowa until mid-June, and the state was supposed to be the place he would stumble. "Everybody fired at us, and we're still standing," he said.

William Dal Col, Forbes' national manager, said the result "means it's a two-man race. It's clear at this point that on the way to the coronation [of Bush], something happened. The numbers show the only one who can go the distance with him is Steve Forbes. We'll continue to do an intensive ground effort like we did here."

Forbes, however, also ran a considerable television advertising campaign in Iowa and can be expected to continue to do so elsewhere, considering his demonstrated willingness to pay heavily for it.

A spokeswoman for Dole, pollster Linda Duvall, counted Dal Col's comment by saying: "It's a two-man, one-woman race. Dole as a first-time candidate beat Buchanan and Alexander, both of whom had run here before."

She said the Dole campaign spent only $250,000, compared with a reported $2 million by Bush and Forbes.

Of Dal Col's claim that the race has come down to Bush and Forbes, Rove said: "We wouldn't be so quick to be dismissive of the other candidates. This is the start of the campaign, not the end. Some of the others got more bang for a buck than Forbes did. I know we did."

Bauer's fourth-place finish was a surprise, considering that he is among the least-known candidates outside his own Christian conservative circle, but he has been campaigning in Iowa for more than a year. "I think we'll be in this for the long haul," he said.

Before the voting started, overflow crowds pressed into the Bush and Forbes tents and around the two candidates as they walked through mobs of well-wishers. Bush had the larger and better-located tents, but Forbes had not only a food tent but another enclosed one equipped with air conditioning and an elaborate sound stage and equipment for his entertainers.

The Forbes campaign also had a kids' park with an inflated moon bounce and a slide, body-painting, a clown and balloons. The food lines for the Bush and Forbes campaigns circled around what would be a city block if the event were being held in a city instead of on a sprawling campus.

While Bush campaigned leisurely in the state, having visited Iowa for only eight days over the past six months, Forbes racked up 32 days, capping his drive with a 6,000-mile bus tour of Iowa and flooding local television and radio with campaign commercials.

Right up to the voting, Forbes chided Bush for his casual pace. But the Bush organization and the governor's newly acquired celebrity brought out much bigger crowds to his relatively few events. At each, he continued to promote himself as a "compassionate conservative," telling a campaign picnic gathering in Indianola:

"I welcome the label. I really do. I like it. It is on this ground that I will take my stand."

The other candidates attracted respectable crowds at their tents, though not of the dimensions of the Bush and Forbes turnouts. Well over 100 buses were chartered to bring the voters, most of them by Bush and Forbes.

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