Bush stakes GOP claim

Texas governor hints others should rethink candidacies

Forbes sees two-man race

Alexander on verge of quitting

Quayle, Buchanan to press on

August 16, 1999|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

AMES, Iowa -- Gov. George W. Bush was back home in Texas yesterday, his claim on the 2000 Republican presidential nomination strengthened by his clear victory in Saturday's Iowa GOP straw vote, despite the efforts of runner-up Steve Forbes to take the luster off it.

The time may have come for others in the field who fared poorly to consider whether they should continue in the race, Bush hinted. "I think everybody's going to have to reassess their positions and find out whether or not they can stay competitive," he said.

One of the also-rans, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, appeared to be on the verge of taking Bush's advice. "I'm going home to Nashville and reconsider my candidacy," he said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There's a powerful force in this country to nominate George W. Bush. In the next day or two I'll be thinking about that."

Bush's 31.3 percent of the nearly 24,000 votes cast put a comfortable distance between him and magazine publisher Forbes, the self-financed multimillionaire who won 20.8 percent and reportedly spent more than $1 million in an effort to slow Bush down.

"We have more than accomplished what we intended to do," Bush said. "The victory in Iowa puts me on the road toward earning the nomination of the Republican Party next year."

But Forbes put a different slant on the results. "Two-thirds of the voters voted against Governor Bush," he said. "I think I'm emerging as the conserva tive alternative." Implying that Bush had not been discussing issues as he had, Forbes on ABC's "This Week" said, "Money plus no message equals mush."

Alexander, who ran third in the Iowa precinct caucuses in 1996 and has been campaigning in the state since, drew 6 percent of the vote in Saturday's straw poll. He said he has been bucking up against a sense in the news media that Bush's nomination is inevitable and that he doesn't have a chance. "I'm not interested in spending the next six months running down George Bush and arguing with the media to take me seriously," he said.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle, who took 3.9 percent of the vote, insisted he would press on. "I'm more determined than ever to get my message before the American people," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "We'll go on."

Commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, disappointed in gaining 7.3 percent of the vote and running behind Christian conservative Gary Bauer, also said he would persevere. He continued to dodge questions about whether he might run on the Reform Party ticket. Bauer claimed the title of "the one true conservative candidate."

Forbes' campaign manager, William Dal Col, insisted that Bush's failure to pull a third of the straw vote meant his "coronation" had been halted in its tracks. Dal Col suggested that the Bush-Forbes one-two finish meant that the race had narrowed down to the two of them, a year before the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

But Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, said the Forbes campaign ought not to be so "dismissive" of the other candidates at this early stage of the competition.

The Bush-Forbes finish was expected, considering Bush's wide lead in public-opinion polls in Iowa and around the country and his strong establishment support, and Forbes' free-spending on television ads and organization.

Somewhat of a surprise was the third-place finish of former Cabinet secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who received 14.4 percent. She was credited with bringing a good number of first-time activists, many of them women, into the process. "We have an invisible army," she told her workers in her Des Moines headquarters yesterday before heading for New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary next year.

All the also-rans pointed out that Saturday's vote delivered no 2000 convention delegates and was merely a highly hyped warm-up for Iowa's Republican precinct caucuses tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31. But as the first tangible evidence of voter support and grass-roots organizing ability, it was looked upon by the political community as the first fair indication of the pecking order of candidates heading toward the caucuses and the other state primaries to follow.

Iowa state party Chairman Kayne Robinson defended the straw poll as a legitimate test of the various campaigns' organizational skills, and to a degree it was. But the money thrown into the effort by Forbes and Bush -- particularly Forbes -- distorted the picture.

Forbes, who has denied reports that he spent up to $2 million on the campaign in Iowa, ran television ads for a process that involved a tiny portion of the state's Republicans. Illustrating the lavishness of his spending was the fully enclosed, air-conditioned hospitality tent he ran on the grounds of Iowa State University.

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