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Gore, Bush win in Iowa, but Forbes is solid No. 2
By SARA FRITZ
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2000
While Bush and Gore easily won in their party contests, the biggest surprise in the Iowa balloting was the stunning performance of millionaire Republican publisher Steve Forbes, a testament to his money, organization and the power of the abortion issue.
Former Ambassador Alan Keyes, the only African-American in the race, also did better than expected with a poorly financed campaign that caught the imagination of a cadre of white Christian conservatives.
With 89 percent of the Republican returns available, the results were: Bush, 41 percent; Forbes, 30 percent; Keyes, 14 percent; former Reagan aide Gary Bauer, 9 percent; and Sen. Orrin Hatch, 1 percent. With about 57 percent of the Democratic results available, Gore had 64 percent and Bradley 35 percent.
Bush, the governor of Texas, had an advantage in Iowa because his chief rival, Sen. John McCain, did not compete there. Even so, McCain got 5 percent of the vote.
"We have a record-shattering victory tonight," Bush declared. "I am grateful for the outpouring of support my message of compassionate conservatism has received, and I'm looking forward to taking it to the state of New Hampshire."
By comparison, Gore's victory was a bigger achievement because he beat back a strong challenge from Bradley by reinventing himself and reinvigorating his campaign in the past few months.
But to say simply that Bush and Gore won in Iowa does not do justice to the intense analysis that these results will be subjected to.
Winners traditionally are measured against expectations, and therefore Bush and Gore will get less credit for these victories because they were never in doubt.
"It's possible to win and lose, or lose and win," said Drake University political scientist Hugh Winebrenner.
Furthermore, both front-runners are expected to suffer some serious setbacks in the primaries, starting in New Hampshire a week from today.
Iowans, whose first-in-the-nation contest for presidential nominees has been assailed as a poor test of national public sentiment, have always resisted efforts to move other state contests ahead of theirs. Iowans are not as young, diverse or urban as voters in the rest of the country.
Despite a good turnout, only about 200,000 Iowans -- a little more than 10 percent of the voters -- turned out for caucuses held in homes, community centers and school cafeterias in every precinct.
The Iowa caucuses are not traditional elections with polling places open throughout the day. Instead, citizens gather in precincts about 7 o'clock on the appointed night, and then separate into groups according to their presidential preferences.
Casting himself as a "fighter" for the average American, Gore prevailed over Bradley by portraying his challenger as someone who sees the presidency as "an academic exercise" instead of a governing position.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, a Gore supporter, said the challenge from Bradley was responsible for forcing the vice president to shed the trappings of his office and campaign more aggressively.
"It's caused him to really fight," said Gephart, who won in the 1988 Iowa Democratic caucuses, but failed to get the nomination. "He's a better candidate and this is a better campaign than when it started."
Organization is key to winning in the Iowa caucuses. And Gore's well-financed campaign enjoyed valuable assistance from organized labor, which ran the phone banks and supplied members to canvass voters door to door.
The vice president also had strong support from Democratic party regulars and farmers, while Bradley's supporters seemed to be concentrated in the state's many colleges and universities.
Bradley's campaign got a boost Sunday when the Des Moines Register endorsed him, along with Bush. The Register described Bradley as a man of integrity and vison.
There is no question Bradley's independent-mindedness had wide appeal. One of his best applause lines on the stump is: "This campaign is built on a radical premise that you can go out there and tell people what you believe and win."
Bradley's supporters also sought to convince the voters that their man is more electable than Gore in the general election -- that Gore is hopelessly tainted by his long relationship with President Clinton, the first elected chief executive ever to be impeached.
Although Bush made a strong showing in the final Iowa tally, the stress of the final days showed up a big weakness in his ability to handle the media. On several occasions recently, the Texan seemed to wither under intense media questioning.
Bush also was under constant attack from Forbes, who used his expensive media campaign to portray the front-runner as being soft on taxes and abortion. He tried to downplay his opposition to abortion, clearly afraid a starchy anti-abortion stance would hurt in in the general election.
But the news media, picking up on Forbes' attack, kept pestering Bush to explain his views on abortion. Finally, in a rowdy news conference Thursday, Bush was forced to address the issue.
He argued that he had always been anti-abortion and viewed the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which opened the way for abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, as "a reach." He meant that the court had gone beyond the Constitution to write new law.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.