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Des Moines Register: Bauer says polls mean nothing

By JEFF ZELENY/Des Moines Register

November 22, 1999
Web posted at: 10:25 a.m. EST (1525 GMT)

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (Des Moines Register) -- Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer stood on the front steps of the Onawa Public Library four months ago and offered a suggestion to fellow Christian conservatives who he said were running for president simply to make a point.

Consider abandoning the race, Bauer said on that warm July day, when he insisted he was the only true conservative capable of capturing the nomination.

Since Bauer made those remarks, the presidential landscape has changed more dramatically than the seasons. Four Republicans dropped their bids in the past four months, leaving six GOP candidates still in the race.

Today, it's Bauer's candidacy that's under a closer watch. He remains consistently locked in single-digit poll readings in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the presidential nominating season begins early next year.

"The polls mean virtually nothing," Bauer said, bristling when asked whether his candidacy is withering. "We're not tottering on the edge. Each week we're picking up momentum."

Bauer, a conservative activist making his first bid for the presidential nomination, campaigned in western Iowa throughout the weekend. He conducted three town meetings, spoke at four Sunday church services and is scheduled to address five school audiences today in Sioux County, traditionally the most Republican county in the state.

While other presidential candidates turn to television advertisements to sell their message in the final two months before the Iowa caucuses, Bauer is relying on himself and a core of Christian conservative activists to spread the word about his strict stance against abortion, his commitment to families and his positions on taxes, Social Security and education.

"Every time he speaks, he sells himself," said Marlys Popma, a veteran conservative activist who is running Bauer's campaign in the state. "He is absolutely our best ammunition - the candidate himself. Sometimes that's not the case, but he is."

Bauer's campaign addresses are peppered with references to the leading Republican presidential campaigns of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and millionaire publisher Steve Forbes. In a Saturday evening speech in the basement of a Council Bluffs fire station, Bauer took repeated jabs at Bush and Forbes, trying to convince the 70 conservatives in his audience that he is the true conservative in the race.

"Up until now, the election really has been about how much money one guy's raised and another guy's inherited," Bauer said. "Now, for the election to mean something, it ought to be about the issues. These are serious differences."

The discussion repeatedly returned to abortion, when Bauer shook his hand in the air and promised if he were elected president he would appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

"Governor Bush has been very clear in his signals, that he doesn't intend to do anything about this issue as president," Bauer said. "That's disappointing, and I think it's going to hurt him deeply in Iowa."

Last week, when Bush campaigned in eastern Iowa for two days, there was no mention of abortion in his campaign speeches. If a voter asked Bush about the topic, he briefly outlined his anti-abortion position but said he would not quiz judges about their positions on any issue, including abortion.

Bauer, who is trying to persuade social conservatives to support his campaign, criticizes Bush for not making abortion a central part of his campaign speeches. It's an issue that's likely to come up during upcoming debates in Iowa and New Hampshire, when Bauer and other candidates try to erode Bush's big lead.

"The governor knows an unborn child is a human being, just as I do," Bauer said. "So I hope he'll find his voice as the front-runner of our party in the weeks ahead on this very important issue."

Brenda Scott, a 37-year-old Republican from Malvern, said Bauer's strong anti-abortion position is one of the major reasons she supports his candidacy.

She wishes Iowa conservative voters would pay more attention to abortion - and to Bauer's presidential bid.

"I believe he can do it," Scott said. "If God wants it, he'll be the president. It doesn't matter what the polls say or what other people say."


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Monday, November 22, 1999






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