Forbes, Bauer court social conservatives
By DAVID YEPSEN/Register Staff Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (Des Moines Register) -- Republican presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer are waging a spirited battle for support among GOP social conservatives in Iowa.
The two men, who spent the weekend campaigning in the state, are seeking to emerge from the Jan. 24 caucuses as the leading alternative to the front-runner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, in the contest for the GOP nomination.
A key constituency in those caucuses will be the social conservatives, those participants motivated by their strong views on subjects such as abortion, gay rights, gun control and traditional family values.
Since Christian broadcasting executive Pat Robertson finished second in the 1988 caucuses, religious conservatives have been a force in Iowa Republican politics. Yet researchers say there are signs the social conservatives aren't the force they once were.
Forbes and Bauer, in their efforts to break out in Iowa or at least slow Bush's momentum, have targeted these conservatives. Former commentator Alan Keyes also is working to get social conservatives to back him, but polls show his campaign has not been generating the same level of support that he received when he ran in 1996.
Forbes completed a bus trip around Iowa last week. Aides said he generated good crowds wherever he went as he sought to appeal to traditional fiscal conservatives and social conservatives.
Saturday night, Forbes attracted a respectable crowd of about 500 who paid $25 to attend a fund-raiser for him at the Polk County Convention Complex. Forbes served up his stump speech, which reminds listeners that "I am pro-life and I believe in the life amendment" to the U.S. Constitution.
Over the weekend, Forbes also touted endorsements of veteran social conservatives Steve and Carmen Kopf and the Rev. John Hulsizer.
Bauer spoke to the Iowa College Republicans' state convention Saturday at the West Des Moines Marriott, where he said, "I can't find the word 'abortion' in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence . . . yet in those words, the right to life is the first right cited."
Forbes has won some social conservatives simply by convincing them he has more money to stay in the race. To counter that, Bauer said Saturday that his campaign had raised more than $10 million and "we're going to be very competitive in this campaign."
"There are a couple people in the party who think you can become president by essentially buying the presidency. You've got one candidate who has raised a lot of money and the other candidate who has inherited a lot of money," Bauer said.
Neutral observers differ on who is winning the Forbes-Bauer battle. Samona Joy Yentes, the lobbyist for the Iowa Right to Life Committee and an activist who is staying out of the presidential fray, said that "if social conservatives split over anything, it's over electability vs. the long-term commitment."
"Bauer has been, is, and will be a social and economic conservative," she said. "He was long before he got into politics. His record on pro-life is unquestionable. Forbes has an excellent message in this campaign, but some feel it isn't consistent with his presidential campaign last time. Yet some feel Forbes has better funding and are going with him.
"I don't think there's a clear winner at this point."
Republican state party Chairman Kayne Robinson, who is neutral in the campaign, said social conservatives are scattered among all the remaining candidates, but Forbes probably leads Bauer in the quest for their votes.
"Forbes, because of his resources, appears to have more support, but Bauer has a good organization and very intense support," Robinson said. "Forbes is a little bit ahead."
University of Iowa social science Professor Arthur Miller, who directs the school's Social Science Institute that does polls on politics, said his research indicates Bauer is doing a better job of winning the hearts of social conservatives.
He said Bauer gets 56 percent of his support from Republicans who call themselves the most conservative. Forbes, however, gets only 23 percent of his support from the most conservative Republicans. Bush gets 9 percent of his support from this constituency.
"It looks like Gary Bauer is winning, but it also looks like there aren't enough of them to swing this in his direction," Miller said. That's because Bush is swamping everyone else among likely caucus-goers in the institute's polls. Miller said 52 percent of likely caucus-goers favor Bush, while Forbes gets 13 percent and Bauer and Arizona Sen. John McCain each get 6 percent.
Bauer has worked Iowa hard, but his level of support is no greater than that of McCain, who has avoided campaigning in Iowa, Miller noted.