- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

DES MOINES, Iowa Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush are poised to win big victories in the Iowa caucuses tonight in the first balloting of the 2000 presidential campaign.
Mr. Gore led his Democratic rival, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, 56 percent to 28 percent in a poll the Des Moines Register released yesterday.
Mr. Bush, the Republican front-runner, led publisher Steve Forbes 43 percent to 20 percent. Commentator Alan Keyes and Sen. John McCain of Arizona tied for third with 8 percent, followed by conservative activist Gary Bauer with 6 percent and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah with 1 percent.
The race to watch tonight could be the Republican battle among Mr. Forbes, Mr. Keyes and Mr. Bauer to emerge as the "conservative alternative" to Mr. Bush. The trio is chiding Mr. Bush for not taking a more aggressive anti-abortion stance.
Mr. Keyes, urging moral standards with ringing oratory, is drawing large, enthusiastic crowds in Iowa and appears to be gaining momentum as the caucuses near.
"Alan Keyes is coming on… . He could be a strong third," former Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad, a Republican who supports Mr. Forbes, said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition."
It is "very possible Mr. Keyes could beat Sen. McCain in Iowa," added Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who backs Mr. McCain.
An unexpectedly strong finish in Iowa could give Mr. Forbes, Mr. McCain or Mr. Keyes a vital boost heading into the New Hampshire primary Feb. 1.
In 1984, Sen. Gary Hart, Colorado Democrat, finished a distant second to Walter Mondale in the Iowa caucuses with only 16.5 percent of the vote. But Mr. Hart emerged as the leading rival to the front-runner. Mr. Hart rode the momentum to New Hampshire, where he defeated Mr. Mondale eight days later.
Big wins tonight for Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush would increase pressure on Mr. Bradley and Mr. McCain to prevail in New Hampshire. Mr. Bradley must regroup quickly as new polls show the vice president drawing even there. Mr. McCain is ignoring Iowa to focus on New Hampshire and South Carolina, where Republicans vote Feb. 1 and Feb. 19 respectively.
In Iowa, the front-runners' big leads and bone-chilling temperatures could lead to a dismal turnout at tonight's caucuses. A professor at Drake University predicts that only 6 percent of Iowa's 1.8 million registered voters will attend the caucuses at fire halls, schools and churches in 2,131 precincts.
Snow blanketed eastern Iowa late last week, raising concerns in the Bush and Gore camps that their supporters would become complacent and stay home. The wind chill factor yesterday hit 3 degrees below zero in Des Moines, minus 29 in Mason City and minus 26 in Davenport.
Tonight's caucuses do not begin until 7 p.m., when the temperature will begin to plummet. The weather is critical because 23 percent of likely caucus voters in both parties are 65 or older. Mr. Gore's aides fear those are the likeliest voters to stay home in bad weather.
The caucus process is more demanding than a primary in which a voter merely pulls a lever in private. In a caucus, neighbors gather at a local site to elect delegates to their county's political convention.
In a Republican caucus, a registered voter signs in and votes by secret ballot. Voters usually drop a slip of paper in a passed hat. The process at a Democratic caucus is more complex. A voter signs in and joins other voters who support the same candidate. The groups then listen to speeches as backers of each candidate try to convert their neighbors. Finally, the Iowa Democrats raise their hands to vote.
Nearly 650,000 of Iowa's registered voters are independents, the state's largest voting bloc. They can take part today by registering as Democrats or Republicans when they arrive at a caucus.
Most caucus voters are party activists. The caucus vote reflects only a small sample of Iowa's voting population. The record turnout occurred in 1988, when 125,000 Democrats and 109,000 Republicans took part in the caucuses.
Mr. Gore's backing by organized labor gives him a huge boost in Iowa. For example, the Iowa affiliate of the AFL-CIO mailed 110,000 fliers for Mr. Gore in the campaign's final days.
Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush are downplaying expectations, while hoping for huge margins.
"A win is a win," said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane.
Mr. Bush says he hopes to top 37 percent, the record for a Republican in a contested caucus. In 1988, Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas received 37.4 percent of the Republican vote to finish ahead of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and Vice President George Bush, who went on to win the Republican nomination and the presidency.
The Texas governor is walking a fine line in Iowa. He wants to win convincingly without moving so far right that he gives the Democrats ammunition in the fall election.
Mr. Bush did not mention abortion Saturday as he addressed voters at a rally in Davenport on the 27th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. The omission did not bother Bill Irey, an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Davenport.
"That's low on my list," Mr. Irey said. "I think there's a large number of Republicans who look at that with interest but aren't going to have that be the determining factor."
Mr. Bush "well represents the core Republican values," Mr. Irey said.
Mr. Bush raised eyebrows in Des Moines Saturday night when he did not attend a rally at the Assembly of God Church, where Mr. Forbes, Mr. Bauer and Mr. Keyes decried the Roe vs. Wade ruling.
But Mr. Bush is trying to burnish his conservative credentials. He told reporters in Davenport Saturday that he supports the anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform. A Bush radio ad running in Iowa quotes prominent conservatives Rush Limbaugh and William F. Buckley praising Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan.
Mr. Gore has solidified his lead in Iowa by charging that Mr. Bradley failed to support relief after devastating floods struck Iowa in 1993. Mr. Bradley actually did vote for nearly $6 billion in flood relief, but he voted against an amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, that would have allocated another $1 billion.
Mr. Gore has saturated the radio airwaves with an ad in which Mr. Harkin says the vice president is "the only Democratic candidate for president who has been there for us in times of need."
Mr. Gore "seems to have a lot of zest and energy," F. Dow Bates, a chiropractor, said yesterday during a Gore rally in Des Moines. Mr. Bates said he also likes Mr. Gore's "experience, integrity and preparedness for the job."
Mr. Bradley did not help his cause last week when he told reporters that "Iowa rewards entrenched power." Mr. Bradley also lost vital campaign time reassuring voters that his irregular heartbeat is a nuisance and not a serious medical problem.
Jerry Dalziel, 64, a retired systems analyst from Maquoketa, in northeast Iowa, explained why he is backing Mr. Bradley.
"I respect the man and I respect his integrity," Mr. Dalziel said Saturday after the former New Jersey senator addressed supporters at Maquoketa Middle School. "I don't think Gore can beat Bush," Mr. Dalziel added. "He's got too much Clinton baggage."
Mr. Bradley holds out hope that friendly arm-twisting in church basements and school auditoriums will give his campaign a surprise boost tonight.
"The mystery of the Iowa caucuses is a little like the mystery of the College of Cardinals," Mr. Bradley told supporters Thursday at a hotel in Muscatine on the banks on the Mississippi River.
"No one knows exactly how that decision is made."

David Boyer in Des Moines and Joyce Howard Price in Washington contributed to this report.

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