GOP candidates worry about the cash crop in Iowa
August 12, 1999
Web posted at: 6:10 p.m. EDT (2210 GMT)
DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- While the Republican Party and the nine candidates competing in Saturday's Iowa straw poll may try to keep the attention focused on the issues, something in the back of everyone's minds this week is money.
It takes money to win the straw poll. Every voter must pay the $25 ticket fee, and in Ames where the population is only about 24,000 when Iowa State University is not in session, getting 10,000-15,000 people to the polls costs money. Plus, once all those voting age Iowans are bused from around the state, they must be fed and entertained so they don't change their minds about whose name to check.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush spent more than $40,000 for the best piece of demonstration real estate near the Hilton Coliseum where the poll will take place.
Bush spokesperson Karen Hughes told CNN Wednesday afternoon the campaign will spend about $750,000 getting approximately 5,000 people to the event on Saturday.
Besides having raised $37 million so far this year, Bush has another fiscal advantage. Neither Bush nor multi-millionaire publish Steve Forbes have applied for federal matching funds, so they can spend whatever they like.
Candidates who've applied for matching funds must observe a spending limit in Iowa, estimated to be just over $1 million for the primary season that includes the straw poll and more-critical caucus.
Some campaign watchers think Bush and Forbes could come to close to spending that sum just on this weekend's competition.
"We know they're spending heavily; $1 million is not out of the question," says Mike Glover of The Associated Press.
"Those that have the most money will probably do quite well," admits former presidential candidate Bob Dole. Dole's wife, Elizabeth, herself a presidential contender, is hoping for a strong finish in Ames.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle agrees, saying money "could make a difference in the straw poll, there's no doubt about it. This is almost like the old Daley machine, where you tend to buy votes."
While the cash-strapped Quayle campaign may be hedging against a disappointing outcome, campaigns with money downplay its significance.
"If you have money but no issues, that equals mush," says Forbes.
Unlike Bush, Forbes has been using his money to support his old-fashioned campaigning, logging more than 5,700 miles across Iowa so far. Bush has only visited the state nine times since 1997.
But for candidates who haven't enjoyed the fund-raising success of Bush or don't have the independent wealth of Forbes, the straw poll is a double edge sword.
"It would be actually foolish for me to spend a big chunk of money in a straw poll," says Quayle.
Spending serious money this early in the election season on a straw poll may seem like a waste of limited resources, but a poor showing could have a serious affect of future fund-raising prospects.
The question for candidates such as Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan, Quayle, and Dole is, as David Broder of the Washington Post puts it, "will they do well enough here on Saturday that they can go back to financial supporters and say, it's a worthwhile investment."
So for those candidates who don't meet analyst expectations, the perception of failure more than 15 months before the campaign may well have to do more with money than with voter support.
Dole, for example, has consistently finished ahead of Forbes in nationwide presidential polling, but her fund-raising has not met expectations.
But even those candidates with money are fighting expectations, some of their own making.
"Anytime I compete for anything, if I don't finish first, it's a disappointment. We'll see how we do. It's -- it's a first step of a very long process. I'm a little late, simply because I was doing my job as governor," says Bush.
However some think a narrow first place finish by Bush may not be enough.
"While I think he may win the straw poll, I'm not sure he'll win it big enough. He said he wants to get 50 percent -- that's a tall order -- in order to have the national media right that he had to -- quote -- win at the straw poll,"says political consultant Mike Murphy.
CNN's Charles Zewe, Bruce Morton, John King and Judy Woodruff contributed to this report, written by Janine Yagielski.