Presidential Wannabes Hit Iowa District Caucuses
By Bruce Morton/CNN
MASON CITY, Iowa (April 20) -- Almost two years before the Iowa presidential caucuses, potential Republican candidates are beginning to spend some serious time in Iowa to test their messages and look for support.
On one recent afternoon, reporters from KGRN and the Grinnell Herald Register waited. They had other assignments this day, and the presidential wannabe was late. But New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith got there before the reporters had to leave.
GOP County Chairman Alan Clark, who was there to greet Smith, hopes he will speak at a fund-raiser later this year. Smith is a serious wannabe.
"We've been here now, since January 1st, a total of 30 days," Smith says.
"The race is a jumble," says veteran Des Moines Register political reporter David Yepsen. "There are half a dozen candidates who are in double digits, low double digits in the polls. Nobody's a front-runner."
A lot of Republican wannabes toured the state this past weekend to drop in at the Congressional District caucuses, including one in Mason City.
Is there an issue on Iowa Republicans' minds this spring?
"I think there is one issue that really plays big in the Republican Party right now, and that's morality in government," said Yepsen.
A lot of the maybe-candidates seemed to agree.
"Our children are being taught a terrible lesson right now," said Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council. "The president of the United States, in all due respect to him and his office, he has hurt the office of the presidency and I believe he ought to be ashamed of himself."
Lamar Alexander, who has the support of popular Gov. Terry Branstad and, most say, the best organization in the state, hit the same theme in his speech.
"Mr. President, your conduct is a national embarrassment and the presidency is not yours to trash!" Alexander said to applause.
Steve Forbes, who has added social conservatism to his favorite flat tax speech, called for a ban on so-called partial birth abortions because "it is the first step on putting abortion on the ultimate road to extinction in the United States of America."
Iowa is a strong Christian Coalition state, but the social conservatives don't have a favorite candidate yet. Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, who stresses moral issues, said the party needs unity to win.
"I believe that the key to victory, ultimately, will be our ability to energize both economic conservatives and social conservatives in the Republican Party," Ashcroft said in an interview.
The Iowa presidential caucuses are almost two years off, but the people who turned out last weekend were party activists. They're up for it.
"It makes for an enjoyable day," said delegate John Hulsizer. "If nothing else, we get to hear these guys two years from the election, and that's going to be great."
You may have thought there were a lot of presidential hopefuls at the district caucuses, but not really. For the state convention in June, the Republican Party in Iowa has sent out invitations to everybody they thought might remotely be interested in running for president, and that comes to 23 invitations. You could say the race is wide open.