Bush wins Iowa GOP straw poll
By Janine Yagielski and Kathleen Hayden/ AllPolitics
August 15, 1999
Web posted at: 12:18 a.m. EDT (0418 GMT)
AMES, Iowa (CNN) -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the Iowa Republican straw poll Saturday, capturing 7,418 votes and possibly taking his first big step toward becoming the 2000 GOP presidential nominee.
Bush's total represented about 31 percent of the 23,685 votes cast. Publisher Steve Forbes finished second with 4,921 votes, followed by former Red Cross Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole with 3,410 votes.
They were trailed by social conservative Gary Bauer, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, conservative commentator Alan Keyes, former Vice President Dan Quayle, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, in that order.
Alexander's disappointing sixth-place finish may force him out of the race, CNN has learned. He is expected to make the announcement next week.
"We met our expectations and we won this straw poll the Iowa way -- neighbor to neighbor," Bush told supporters immediately after the numbers were announced.
|TOTAL VOTES: 23,685|
The number of votes Bush received was a record, but his winning percentage was not. The percentage was bested by Bush's father, former President George Bush, in the 1979 straw poll (35.7 percent) and by Pat Robertson in the 1987 straw poll (34 percent).
Bush Communications Director Karen Hughes admitted the campaign spent "a little more" than a self-imposed spending cap of $750,000 because it needed to buy additional $25 tickets to the event Saturday. In total, the Bush operation distributed 10,500 tickets, she said.
Forbes' second-place finish also was no surprise. And in down-ballot jockeying that may determine which candidates can raise enough funds and support to remain viable, Dole showed she could organize supporters for a major political event.
"The wind is out of the sails of inevitability. Two-thirds of the Republicans here are not ready to crown the emperor," Greg Mueller, Forbes' senior communications adviser, said after the results were announced.
The Elizabeth Dole campaign is "thrilled" with their third place finish
Dole aide Tony Fabrizio said the campaign was "thrilled" with their third place finish. "We came and did what we needed to do. Everyone was writing us off for dead," Fabrizio said.
Another closely-watched Iowa race was between social conservatives Quayle, Bauer, Buchanan and Keyes. Asked if his fourth place finish means that he won over that key constituency, Bauer said: "I think we're in the process of winning it."
The announcement capped a long day of campaigning, speech-making and celebrating for Iowa Republicans. Earlier in the evening, each of the nine candidates delivered 10-minute pitches to the more than 13,000 cheering Iowans gathered in Ames' Hilton Coliseum. With common themes of lower taxes, more farm friendly trade policy, the virtues of President Ronald Reagan and the evils of President Bill Clinton the candidates layed out their visions for why they should be the Republican nominee.
Bush, the odds-on favorite to win the day's event, acknowledged that going from governor of Texas to president of the United States is a "big step." "I'm under no illusions," Bush said.
But Bush said he was qualified to lead -- "I'm a uniter, not a divider" -- and to keep the strong economy going. "A great country does not live by prosperity alone. Prosperity must have a greater purpose," he said, repeating a common theme of his campaign.
As the other candidates took their turn at lectern, many took aim at the pack front-runner, though not by name, argued that Bush has not yet wrapped up the GOP nomination.
"I'm running for the second time because I know our nomination can't be bought, it shouldn't be inherited, it ought to be earned. And I'm in Ames, Iowa to earn it," said Alexander.
Lamar Alexander is expected to announce that he is dropping out of the race
Quayle touted his foreign policy experience, and in a barely veiled swipe at Bush, said he did not need on-the-job training.
Despite his eighth-place showing, Quayle spokesman Jonathan Baron said that, unlike Alexander, the former vice president will not drop out of the race. "He is in until Iowa (caucus) and New Hampshire (primary) next year. There will be no reassessment, no ambiguity, no wiggle room."
Other consistent targets in the GOP speeches was Vice President Al Gore, the current leader of the Democrats' presidential sweepstakes, and the Clinton Adminstration. Buchanan joined Keyes in a scathing criticism of President Bill Clinton's moral values, saying the first thing he would do as president is tell Clinton: "You have the right to remain silent."
But Buchanan ended his speech sounding like a candidate who may be about to leave the field. Saying, "I've had a long good career in politics" and quoting Lincoln, he added, "I see the storm coming and I know His hand is in it. But if there's a place and a part for me, I believe I am ready."
After an extensive pre-speech demonstration that included fireworks, horns and a balloon drop three times the size of any other candidate's, Forbes moved to his favorite issue -- scrapping the federal tax code.
Pat Buchanan's straw poll speech criticized President Clinton
Forbes said Americans should "kill it, drive a stake through it's heart and hope it never rises again."
A frequent visitor to Iowa, Forbes' goal was to challenge Bush for the top spot. He did win the title of biggest spender: Estimates of Forbes' bill in Iowa come in around $2 million. He even had an air-conditioned tent.
The formal pomp and circumstance of the event kicked off earlier in the afternoon as a dance mix intoning "You all ready for this?" blasted from the auditorium speakers. Each of the nine participating candidates jogged onto the stage as his or her name was announced. The spectacle continued with fireworks going off at the end of the singing of the national anthem.
Throughout the day, candidates visited supporters outside the coliseum, hosting parties for the thousands who were bused to the event. Each campaign had a tent where attendees enjoyed free food and entertainment and the carnival-like atmosphere.
While technically a fund-raiser for the state Republican party, the Iowa straw poll has taken on added importance this year with the early start to this year's primary season.
Dole and Alexander, who both may have needed strong showings to remain viable as potential alternatives to Bush, both concentrated much of respective messages on the issue of education. Following her speech, Dole was joined on the stage by her husband, former Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP nominee.
The event dates back to 1979. Any Iowa resident who will be of voting age in November 2000 could buy a ticket and cast a ballot in the mock election, which also serves as a fund-raiser for the Iowa Republican Party.
Tickets cost $25 each, but few pay their own way. Most have received complimentary tickets from a campaign looking for a guaranteed vote.