Des Moines Register: McCain resists joining Iowa fray
By JEFF ZELENY/Register Staff Writer
November 15, 1999
Web posted at: 10:04 a.m. EST (1504 GMT)
Arizona Sen. John McCain's third-place finish in the latest Iowa Poll will not lure his Republican presidential campaign into the state, a spokesman said Sunday.
"There is support for John McCain in Iowa, which we're very happy to see," said Howard Opinsky, the campaign's chief spokesman. "But at this point, I don't see anything changing."
McCain, whose candidacy is surging in New Hampshire and rising nationally, is the only major candidate to bypass Iowa, where the presidential nominating season begins with the Jan. 24 precinct caucuses. While McCain hasn't definitively said he'll skip Iowa, the chances he'll make a last-minute entry into the state contest appear to be dwindling.
Despite earning high favorability ratings while finishing a distant third in The Des Moines Register's latest GOP presidential poll, the survey shows that McCain's fierce opposition to ethanol subsidies could be a problem if he campaigns in Iowa.
In a scientific survey of voters likely to participate in the Iowa caucuses, 38 percent of Republicans say the subsidy for the corn-based ethanol fuel product is an issue that "matters a lot." The poll shows 29 percent say support for ethanol "matters a little," while 25 percent say ethanol isn't a key concern.
The numbers are even more dramatic when surveying Republicans who have someone in their household earning a living on a farm or in an agriculture-related field. The poll indicated that 56 percent of those voters might be troubled by a candidate's stance against ethanol.
McCain, the only major presidential candidate to speak against ethanol subsidies, proposes gradually eliminating government support for ethanol production, which he says would hurt major ag conglomerates more than family farmers.
The money used to pay government subsidies for ethanol, sugar and oil, McCain said, should be devoted to a school-voucher program that would allow some parents to test using public money to send children to private schools.
Some McCain supporters say the candidate's disdain for ethanol would not be his death knell in Iowa.
"I don't think that Iowans are one-issue voters," said state Rep. David Millage, a Bettendorf Republican who believes Iowans need a viable alternative to Texas Gov. George W. Bush. "John McCain should campaign in Iowa. I think he would show courage by doing so."
As Iowa's population shifts to urban areas, the influence of the farming and agriculture vote continues to weaken in state and national elections. Only 33 percent of those surveyed say someone in their household is employed in farming or a related field.
Among voters who aren't tied to farm or agriculture jobs, only 28 percent say ethanol "matters a lot." Thirty-five percent say ethanol "matters a little," while 27 percent say the issue isn't a primary concern.
In an October interview with the Register, McCain said his opposition to ethanol subsidies isn't the main reason he has bypassed Iowa. If he has any chance of winning the nomination, he said, he must focus on the first primary state of New Hampshire, where polls last week showed him tied with Bush.
McCain, who hasn't campaigned in Iowa since the spring, is the favored candidate among 8 percent of 500 likely Republican caucus participants surveyed in the Iowa Poll. The results technically mean he is in third place, but statistically he is deadlocked with candidates Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes, who received the support of 7 percent and 5 percent of the survey respondents, respectively.
Bush leads the field in the Iowa Poll with 49 percent of the vote, followed by publisher Steve Forbes with 20 percent.
"McCain has some sort of new lease on life because Bush has looked weak in the last couple of weeks," said Steffen Schmidt, a political scientist at Iowa State University. "I really think he can pick up in Iowa. There are a lot of people drifting around who have thought of Bush as the Messiah."
While McCain has angered Republican leaders in Iowa for not campaigning in the state, he has consistently said the campaign is keeping its options open about Iowa. He is scheduled to participate in the Iowa debates in December and January, but spokesman Opinsky said Sunday that McCain isn't planning campaign events during those visits.
This article provided by Des Moines Register.com.