- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2000

DES MOINES, Iowa Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush cemented their front-runner status last night with solid victories in the Iowa caucuses in the first balloting of the 2000 presidential campaign.
With 94 percent of the Republican precincts reporting, Mr. Bush led with 41 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Forbes with 30 percent, Mr. Keyes with 14 percent, conservative activist Gary Bauer with 9 percent, Arizona Sen. John McCain with 5 percent and Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch with 1 percent.
Mr. Gore trounced former Sen. Bill Bradley 63 percent to 35 percent with 95 percent of Democratic precincts reporting.
The surprises occurred in the Republican balloting. Publisher Steve Forbes, who hopes to carry the social conservatives' banner, finished a strong second to Mr. Bush. Former ambassador Alan Keyes, another favorite of Christian conservatives, emerged from the party's also-rans to finish third.
Mr. Forbes and Mr. Keyes will battle to become the "conservative alternative" to Mr. Bush as the campaign heads to New Hampshire.
"Thank you for the biggest victory in the history of the contested caucuses here in Iowa," Mr. Gore told his cheering supporters in Des Moines last night.
"My message to you this evening is very simple. We've just begun to fight."
"Thank you, Iowa," Mr. Bush told a crowd at his headquarters in Des Moines. "I am humbled, and I am honored by your outpouring of support.
"Tonight marks the first election night of the new millennium, the beginning of the process by which America will choose the president to lead us into the 21st century."
"Tonight also marks the beginning of the end of the Clinton era."
The strong wins by Mr. Bush and by Mr. Gore heighten pressure on Mr. Bradley and Mr. McCain to prevail Feb. 1 in the New Hampshire primary. Mr. Bradley now trails Mr. Gore by five points in New Hampshire, according to a CNN-Gallup-USA Today poll.
Mr. McCain now must slow the momentum of both Mr. Bush and Mr. Forbes.
Last night an ebullient Mr. Forbes addressed supporters who chanted, "New Hampshire. New Hampshire."
"This is not a good night for the power brokers in D.C. Their days are numbered," Mr. Forbes said at his Des Moines campaign headquarters.
Mr. Keyes said his breakthrough third-place finish shows he has the right message for Republicans.
"We believe that we are offering the right alternative, an alternative that speaks to Americans about the need to meet our moral challenge," Mr. Keyes said at his headquarters in Des Moines.
"If people are responding to that, I would praise God and give Him the glory," said Mr. Keyes, a resident of Gaithersburg.
The loss marked the first political defeat for Mr. Bradley, who served three terms as a senator from New Jersey.
"I've always said that running for president requires a mixture of humility and confidence," Mr. Bradley told supporters after he congratulated Mr. Gore.
"Tonight I have a little more humility, but no less confidence that I can win and can do the job," Mr. Bradley told supporters at his headquarters.
Mr. Gore "will get a bump out of Iowa heading into New Hampshire," said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat.
Mr. McCain made only two campaign appearances in Iowa to attend Republican debates. But his aides hoped he would finish in double figures in Iowa.
"I think [Mr. McCain] made a huge mistake," in ignoring Iowa, said former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who supports Mr. Bush.
"Alan Keyes got almost three times as many votes as he got. How can he claim to be the alternative when in fact he didn't campaign here?"
Collectively, Mr. Forbes, Mr. Keyes and Mr. Bauer earned 53 percent of the vote, a testament to the prominent role conservative activists play in the Iowa caucuses.
The test for Mr. Forbes is whether he can win over supporters of Mr. Keyes and Mr. Bauer and threaten the Texas governor.
Mr. Bush's aides said they were thrilled with the result.
Karl Rove, director of the Bush campaign, took the results over a cellular phone at Mr. Bush's headquarters in Des Moines, then proclaimed that Mr. Bush set records for a Republican candidate in a contested Iowa caucus.
"Yeah, baby, yeah," Mr. Rove said. "Biggest percentage, biggest margin and biggest vote. It's a nice start."
Mr. Bush won the largest number of votes ever cast for a Republican candidate in the Iowa caucuses by more than 6,000 votes, Mr. Rove said. He said Mr. Bush won 41 percent in the conservative, Catholic eastern part of the state, 44 percent in the state's urban center and 40 percent in the western, Republican areas.
"We have a message that unites the party, clearly," Mr. Rove said.
Only 47 Democratic delegates and 25 Republican delegates were at stake as Iowans fanned out in 2,100 precincts around the state. But the real prize is the perception of momentum.
Mr. Forbes poured $3.2 million into his Iowa campaign. The expenditure appeared to pay off, as he tripled his 10 percent showing here in 1996.
Both parties estimated that fewer than 200,000 of Iowa's 1.8 million registered voters would attend the caucuses at neighborhood schools, churches and fire halls in the state's 99 counties.
Winter weather did not prove an impediment. Temperatures hovered in the 20s in much of the state as the caucuses began at 7 p.m. local time. Forecasters called for snow flurries in northern Iowa, but no major snowstorms.
The five Republican candidates and two Democrats competing in Iowa took turns giving radio interviews in Iowa's major media markets in the hours before the caucuses.
Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush swept across the state, urging their supporters not to become complacent.
Mr. Gore refused to discuss the impression that his campaign was surging in Iowa, while Mr. Bradley's support was ebbing.
"I'm asking for all the help I can get, and I'm not taking a single person for granted," Mr. Gore said in a television interview.
Mr. Bradley told reporters he hoped to surpass 31 percent. That high-water mark for a Democratic challenger was achieved in 1980 by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, when he lost to President Jimmy Carter by 28 points in the Iowa caucuses.
Mr. Bradley told supporters at Cornell College that if they turned out at the caucuses, "We're gonna surprise a lot of people across this country."
Mr. Bush exuded confidence early yesterday as he arrived in Des Moines to shake hands with voters at a coffee shop.
"There's been great expectations surrounding me ever since I started, so I'm used to it," Mr. Bush said.
He reiterated that he only hoped to top 37 percent. That is the Republican record for a contested caucus, set in 1988 by Sen. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican. But he urged his supporters not to take anything for granted.
Mr. Forbes told reporters yesterday that he would "feel good about a good, strong second." He said in a television interview that Republicans would have "a contest and not a coronation" if he finished strong in Iowa.
Mr. Keyes appeared to be gaining momentum in the hours leading up to the caucuses. At a rally in West Des Moines on Sunday night, Mr. Keyes even dived backward into a makeshift "mosh pit," and teen-agers carried him aloft for several minutes.
Mr. Bauer told reporters yesterday he will carry on to New Hampshire and beyond, regardless of the results in Iowa.
"We're going to Philadelphia," Mr. Bauer said during a campaign stop in Des Moines. "That's where the convention is. That's where I've got to show up to be the next Republican nominee for president of the United States.
"This battle is just beginning," Mr. Bauer said.
Mr. Hatch sounded like he may soon leave the battle.
"I'm doing my best. I've enjoyed it," Mr. Hatch told reporters in Des Moines. "I hope we can continue to go forward, and if we can, great. If we can't, well, I won't be the first one who filed too late and couldn't get it done."

Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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