Buchanan vaulted to New Hampshire
on strength of showing in Tall Corn State
Alexander's charm helps him place 3rd


Managing Editor
Storm Lake, Iowa

The biggest show, the one that captures Iowans' undivided attention, is about to start. That is, the high school girls basketball tournament.

The Tall Corn State has these quaint traditions that die hard. Used to be, not so long ago, that girls played six-on-six by good Christian rules. No stealing, only dribble twice, no fast breaks. Pack 'em into Veterans Memorial Auditorium - the Big Barn, Iowans call it - in Des Moines, where broadcaster Frosty Mitchell does play by play and marvels at the Everly Cattlefeederettes. "In the Valley of the Giants," Frosty would say when an enterprising young woman drove the lane.

The giants came calling recently and left in the night, a Monday, Feb. 12, and strode on to New Hampshire. The flat tax ads are gone. The attack ads have vanished. The boom microphones, too, arching over a Farmall tractor in a chilly machine shed. This quaint political tradition, the caucus, where neighbors meet in a church basement to discuss the larger issues of the day, is over for now. It will be all but forgotten, at least for another four years.

So who won the Iowa caucuses? The numbers say that Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas did-but by only 3 percentage points. That thin margin leaves Pat Buchanan's supporters to claim that they won the caucuses by virtue of their second-place finish. Lamar Alexander, too, can claim some measure of victory. The former Tennessee governor barely showed up in the polls a couple weeks before the caucuses. By Monday night he had placed third. Steve Forbes tried to salvage some spin from his fourth-place showing after spending some $6 million on TV ads.

But others - no less than Gov. Terry Branstad-said the caucuses themselves won. "I'm happiest that the guy who tried to buy Iowa lost big," said Branstad, a Dole supporter. He said it was a validation of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

It is not lost on those who watched over the last 18 months that Buchanan and Alexander were first to visit Buena Vista County and Northwest Iowa. So it went that Buchanan placed first here with 249 votes in the GOP caucus straw poll. Dole was second at 234 votes. Alexander placed third at 175.

The candidate who spent the most time and money here, Titan Wheel boss Morry Taylor, took 110 votes for fourth place in BV County. Across Iowa, Taylor barely garnered 1% despite his ballyhooed $25,000 giveaway - all you had to do was fill out a questionnaire that said "You're right, Morry!" or "You're wrong, Morry!" - and be eligible for one of five $5,000 drawings. (Taylor really did make good on the drawings, too.) And Forbes, the man without an organization but with plenty of money and a flat-tax plan, only got 87 votes from county Republicans. "He was Johnny one-note," said Willis Strawn, county GOP chairman. "He's awfully shallow. Farmers were saying, 'This flat tax isn't going to help me, so why should I go along with him?'"

County co-chair Dave Patton said the results show that the caucuses are still a grass-roots organizational effort based on issues. "Thank goodness you can't just buy ads and turn out the vote," said Patton, an Alexander supporter.

That grass-roots, howdy-neighbor Iowa feeling was in full flower at Newell, Iowa, a town of about 1,000 people. It was hard to find a parking place around the school. The Storm Lake St. Mary's girls were in town for a good basketball drubbing by the Newell-Fonda Mustangs, who are now bound for the Big Barn. By the time the straw vote was done the Lady Panthers were down by about 50.

That was in the new gym. In the old gym, nine Democrats gathered around card tables to formally endorse their man, Bill Clinton, and work up some platform resolutions. They were most interested in what was going on down in the lunchroom.

There, more than 100 Republicans jammed in to play their part in winnowing the ranks of the nine would-bes. Four years ago, only three Republicans showed up. Tom Olson took the reins as caucus chairman. His wife, Marty, and Betty Richardson kept score for Newell and Grant-Providence Townships respectively. He called for the speeches. Melva Urban was first to stand. The lady more famous for the bread she bakes and sells at farmers markets was all warmed up for Buchanan.

"He's a very moral person. We know he's pro-life from way back," Urban said. The liberals in Washington, she said, fear most his call for U.S. sovereignty. He would fight against "one world government," Urban said.

She also touched on the age issue-Dole is 72 years old. "It takes a lot of energy to be President. This is not a Bob Hope or George Burns job," she said. Alura Lullman noted that Buchanan campaigned against illegal immigrants. He had attacked IBP, one of the area's largest employers, for employing "illegals" at its meat packing plant, and Lullman liked the sound of it. "They're here for nine months and then they're on welfare," she said.

Vince Davis then rose, decked out in his red and black flannel shirt. Of course, he was pumping Alexander. "Lamar Alexander believes that we should expect less of Washington and more of ourselves, and I agree with that," Davis said. Most important, Davis added, was that Alexander has the best chance of beating Clinton.

Bob Knapton, a farmer who ran in 1992 as a Democrat for county supervisor, gave his two-cents worth for Taylor. Taylor was the one who's been here the most, Knapton said, and who took in all the night meetings so working people could attend. "We should elect somebody new who will keep (the Republican Revolution) going instead of some politician who's been in there 30 years," Knapton said.

For all the shots Dole took in Newell, no one was there to speak for the Kansan who ran on being "one of us." That's where organization speaks most eloquently. The religious right was organized behind Buchanan-and that accounts for about 40% of the Iowa GOP these days. Clearly, his pro-life message and isolationist themes played well among this rural delegation.

When the count was in Buchanan had 38 votes from Newell and Grant-Providence. Alexander tallied 19. Taylor got 14. Dole only had 12. Straw polls make for good turnouts. About 100,000 Republicans had their say in the first half hour. They aren't so great for further involvement.

When the votes were counted people streamed out of the lunchroom and headed for the girls' game. That was the score that Dick Graves, a Providence Township farmer, was most interested in. His daughter, Lori, plays for St. Mary's. He went to the caucuses as an Alexander supporter and cut out early for some popcorn and a glimpse of his daughter in action. He said he would prefer to watch the political action from the comfort of his living room. But he did turn out.

Back in Storm Lake, the same thing happened. Republicans were jammed into the high school library for the Precinct 3 caucus. About 50 people left after the straw poll was announced. Not so for the nine Democrats at Newell. They outlasted many of the Republicans. They were the likes of Paul Smith, a retired cattleman and one of the deans of local Democratic Party politics, who thinks that Clinton will beat whomever. "Who else is there?" Smith said of his man.

New Hampshire and the Super Tuesday primary would tell more in coming days. Dole has won Iowa before in vain. In 1988, Dole carried Iowa, evangelist Pat Robertson placed second and moderate George Bush placed third. Bush went on to carry New Hampshire that gave him the "Big Mo"mentum into the Super Tuesday primaries of the south.

Patton, the Alexander supporter, has hope. He was less optimistic a few weeks ago, having dallied in the uncommitted abyss for awhile. "Alexander was written off," Patton said. His Iowa showing will get him the money he needs to carry into Super Tuesday, where his Southern style may pay big dividends. Alexander benefitted from his charm, his ability to wow crowds with some ragtime piano, and his staying above the advertising fray. He was the least attack-oriented in his TV ads, and tried to be funny. "I hope this means that people are tired of negative campaigns," Patton said.

The national press paid attention to Alexander's place. His chief organizer around here, insurance agent Dennis Freeman, was called out of the caucus by Time magazine to get his reaction just as the straw poll concluded. Earlier, Dennis and his wife, state Senator Mary Lou, had to get extra chairs for the delegates who lined the hallways in the Iowa Central Community College hallway. Dennis Freeman was glowing. He was not a few weeks ago. His hopes lifted when, after a big snowstorm, 250 people showed up on a Tuesday noon to hear Alexander. "You've got that feeling," Freeman said. "Alexander is the tortoise. He just hung back there and picked up a lot of dissatisfied votes," said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines.

With all the "top brass" and their organizations-Gov. Terry Branstad, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Fifth District U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, and former Gov. Bob Ray-supporting Dole and he still only gets 26%, Freeman asks: "Should he be our candidate?" "Bob Dole carried Iowa and that's all we care about," Branstad said.

Folks in New Hampshire must have been asking the same question. Buchanan bested Dole - even after the Kansan tried to pick up on Buchanan's populist corporate bashing. Buchanan's Iowa chairman, Drew Ivers, said he never dreamed 15 days ago that the former columnist and commentator would be in second place in Iowa - much less first in New Hampshire. After all, Forbes was on a roll just two weeks before the caucuses. Polls in the Des Moines Register showed him slipping. Voters didn't like his attack ads and wealth..

There were comments made by conservatives at Newell that they didn't like all that money. They didn't like Forbes' vague stand on abortion. And they harbor similar animosities for Dole. And Phil Gramm? He barely even showed up on the radar screen. Iowans resented the fact that IBP, on whose board Wendy Gramm sits, arranged for buses to transport workers to an Ames straw poll a few months back where Gramm bought a large block of tickets. He was forced to endorse Dole, swallowing hard along with Sen. Arlen Specter, an earlier drop-out.

Conservative and anti-wealth sentiments started a movement about 10 days ago toward Buchanan, said Ivers. He recently placed second in a California straw poll. "Go, Pat, go!" is the theme of the day. "We are going to clean up the corruption and culture of bribery that controls Washington," Buchanan declared before he jetted out of the state. That seems light years away from last April 6, when Buchanan brought his pugnacious politics to the Hy-Vee grocery store deli in Storm Lake. He was the first then, and the first in the end.

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