They're off: Iowa straw poll sets GOP race in motion
By Janine Yagielski/AllPolitics
August 15, 1999
Web posted at: 12:18 a.m. EDT (0418 GMT)
AMES, Iowa (CNN) -- While Texas Gov. George W. Bush's victory in the Iowa straw poll Saturday did not come as a surprise, the grand kickoff of the 2000 presidential election may have proved the race for the Republican nomination is not over yet, at least for some of the candidates.
Although Bush received a record number of votes, 7,418 of the record 23,685 cast, the governor's 31 percent of the vote was not a record. Bush's father, former President George Bush, took 35.7 percent of the vote in the 1979 straw poll, and Pat Robertson received 34 percent of the total tally in the 1987 straw poll.
Several of the candidates' campaigns pointed to that percentage, arguing that, as second-place finisher Steve Forbes put it Saturday night, the people "want a real contest."
|TOTAL VOTES: 23,685|
The Bush campaign team says they are ready for a real contest, calling the victory "one step in a long process."
Although the governor flew back to Austin, Texas, late Saturday night, his campaign says Bush will soon be off to New Hampshire, the site of the first-in-the-nation primary. He's also expected to give a series of "major policy" speeches in the fall.
But as in any contest, not everyone can win. Lamar Alexander discovered that visiting the state the most times isn't all it takes to win in Iowa.
"I'm going to ... Nashville to reconsider my candidacy," the former governor of Tennessee said Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I'm obviously disappointed."
Several sources close to the Alexander campaign told CNN the candidate was devastated by his sixth-place finish and realized it would be nearly impossible to raise significant funds for his already struggling campaign.
Bush vs. Forbes
Bush's main competition in Ames came from Forbes, who is reported to have spent $2 million on the straw poll -- $1 million on ad buys alone, according to the Bush campaign.
The multimillionaire publisher put on an elaborate show both inside the Hilton Coliseum, where Forbes' 10-minute speech was preceded by fireworks, a balloon drop and a light show, and outside the arena, where his picnic area included carnival rides and an air-conditioned tent.
While most analysts in Iowa had predicted the two top spots would go to Bush and Forbes, the most anticipated announcement of the night may have been for third place.
That spot went to former Red Cross Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole, whose campaign was seen as the wild card in the race.
Dole takes third
The Dole campaign targeted young and first-time straw poll voters. According to a top campaign aide, an estimated three-quarters of Dole's supporters Saturday had never been to the mock election before.
The Elizabeth Dole campaign is "thrilled" with their third place finish
Dole is also quick to point out that her campaign got a better bang-for-the-buck than the top two vote-getters.
"When you end up in the top three -- in a strong solid position such as that -- when others outspent you by millions of dollars, I think that's a real good showing," Dole said Sunday morning on "Meet the Press."
Dole's campaign team says they spent only $250,000 on the event, while the Bush team admits they slightly exceeded their self-imposed $750,000 limit.
Quick to try to capitalize on their success and move up even further in the pack of GOP presidential hopefuls, Dole's team immediately began criticizing Sen. John McCain of Arizona for deciding not to participate in Saturday's event, saying he missed an extraordinary opportunity.
Both McCain and Dole are seen as moderates who broaden the appeal of the Republican Party.
Directly behind Dole and winning the top spot among the social conservatives in the race was Family Research Council President Gary Bauer.
The social conservatives
Bauer bested both Pat Buchanan, who finished fifth, Alan Keyes, who finished in the seventh spot, and former Vice President Dan Quayle, who came in eighth.
Pat Buchanan's straw poll speech criticized President Clinton
Although none of the candidates criticized the front-runner by name during their speeches Saturday, Bauer took on Bush on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning, saying, "Bush and (Vice President Al) Gore are really like one candidate."
Buchanan, who ended his speech Saturday sounding like a candidate who may be about to leave the field, said Sunday morning, "I survived" and "We're going forward."
What he wouldn't tell "Meet the Press" directly was if he would continue as a Republican or switch parties and seek the Reform Party nomination.
A spokesman for Quayle told The Associated Press the former vice president is in the race for the long haul and nothing has changed.
The straw poll 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 served as a fund-raiser for the Iowa Republican Party.
Tickets cost $25 each, but few voters paid their own way. Most received complimentary tickets from a campaign looking for a guaranteed vote.
CNN's Carin Dessauer and John King contributed to this report.