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Up next: a battle for votes, respect in New Hampshire

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2000


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Overnight, Iowa turned back into a pumpkin.

The presidential candidates were expected to arrive in New Hampshire well before sunrise this morning and start battling for votes in the nation's first primary, one week from today.

No more scenes from snow-covered Midwestern farms.

No more explanations about caucuses in Iowa living rooms.

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No more satellite trucks encircling the old Hotel Fort Des Moines downtown or idling near the golden-domed state capitol on the hill.

This morning this city "is going to look like the day after Woodstock," said Randy Tate, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition.

Iowa had more than its share of time in the national spotlight for caucuses that drew fewer than two in 10 voters and produced few surprises.

Caucuses are for party activists. As expected, they rewarded the establishment candidates, Vice President Al Gore for the Democrats and Texas Gov. George W. Bush for the Republicans.

In New Hampshire, where seven of 10 voters go to the polls and have a well-deserved reputation for independence, it is a different ballgame.

The Iowa caucuses were the first baby step off the election starting line. New Hampshire next week will be a bigger step. The biggest leap comes March 7, when primaries are held in a dozen or so states, including California and New York.

Remember two little historical facts today as Bush and Gore try to spin Iowa into the greatest victory since World War II and Republican Steve Forbes tries to convince everyone he won by finishing a surprisingly strong second.

First, winners of the Iowa caucuses don't often win the New Hampshire primary. The last candidate to do it was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Second, the New Hampshire primary is a better gauge of who will be elected president than the caucuses. Only one man in the last 48 years has won the presidency without winning the New Hampshire primary first. That was Bill Clinton in 1992, who finished second behind Paul Tsongas from neighboring Massachusetts.

Whether Bush, Gore or Forbes do any better this week in the Granite State because of their performance Monday night in Iowa is uncertain.

"They don't have any impact," former New Hampshire Gov. Hugh Gregg, a stalwart defender of the nation's first primary, said Monday of Iowa's caucuses. "They make mistakes out there. We have to straighten them out. Iowa is a fine state, but it is a caucus. It is not an election like we have here. We've always picked the president."

Or at least almost always.

Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, is a bit more generous than Gregg. He said Monday that the media spin out of Iowa could give someone such as Forbes a slight bump. While opinion polls indicate two of every three New Hampshire voters have firmly decided how they will vote Feb. 1, Smith said, the remaining one-third could be influenced by Iowa.

The pressure in New Hampshire today is on the insurgents, Bradley and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

If Bradley made a mistake in Iowa, it was to raise expectations to an unrealistic level. He was right when he said caucuses reward entrenched power because they are dominated by party activists. But he badly miscalculated what it would take to upset an incumbent vice president in that environment.

Now Bradley has a second chance to prove he has not lost all of his momentum.

This morning, McCain looks pretty smart.

He skipped the Iowa caucuses, concluding he did not have the time nor the money to organize a grass-roots organization here. A new poll by CNN and USA Today shows McCain leading Bush in New Hampshire, 42 percent to 33 percent.

To win New Hampshire, the Arizona senator has to reassure voters he can go the distance while more effectively countering Bush's attacks on his tax plan.

But Bush will be the one in the vise.

He is pressured by a reinvigorated, well-financed Forbes on one side and McCain on the other.

In sports, coaches often schedule an early game or two that are certain victories before taking on tougher opponents.

Iowa was that first easy win for Bush and Gore. It gets tougher starting today.

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