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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Next: the Forbes bump

If it happens--and the publisher's money and crowds suggest it could--then it's good for McCain

By Margaret Carlson

TIME magazine

November 8, 1999
Web posted at: 1:21 p.m. EST (1821 GMT)

For a long time, i've dismissed steve forbes as the poster boy for the candidates who don't matter. Sure, he came in second in the Iowa straw poll. But it was a 90 day, when I witnessed the pull of an air-conditioned tent and short food lines on voters. Some days, money can buy you love. But I still didn't think it could buy presidential stature. Forbes, despite spending millions, is stuck with the uncomfortable person he is. In one ad in which he gazes from a movie-set White House at the real one, with emotions running the gamut from bland to vanilla and a smile unconnected to his eyes, he conveys exactly the opposite of the Mount Rushmore effect: he's doomed to be looking endlessly at the one mansion he can't buy.

But I'm here to predict that although it may be only as a placeholder for McCain, there is a possibility of a Forbes bump, if not a full-fledged moment. Lately, Forbes is attracting crowds in Iowa. "They like my conservative message out here," he says from his bus, Victory Express II, where the cooler is always full and the snacks are never ending. On Friday several hundred people showed up in Cedar Rapids to see him. Earlier in the day he got a standing-room-only group of 700 in Davenport and 500 people came out in Sioux City last Tuesday night. Out in farm country, that's packing them in; only half as many had shown up for Bush a week earlier.

With less than three months to go before the Iowa contest, the heavyweights challenging him on the right have bitten the dust, leaving only novelty candidates like Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer. John McCain is not competing in Iowa. And Bush, the stealth candidate, is getting hit when he comes out of hiding. Forbes, who usually sounds like the disembodied voice that tells you to "Press 1" to be connected to the next available customer representative, is actually animated when he talks about Bush's failing the latest pop quiz. "Everyone would understand if he didn't know the No. 2 in Uzbekistan. But not knowing important world leaders underscores that people don't know whether he has a grasp of foreign policy. Or any other issues for that matter."

In Iowa, where it counts, Forbes has pandered much more heavily to the Christian Coalition than has Bush, who thought a talk about Jesus on the beach with the Rev. Billy Graham would be enough. Forbes diluted his flat-tax message to appeal to religious activists by promising "a new birth of freedom"; that's his way of telling true believers they should be free to post the Ten Commandments in public schools and have only antiabortion judges appointed to the Supreme Court.

And Forbes can stay on Bush's case until the end with enough money to buy TV ads--enough to buy a TV network--if he wants to. He's shown he will spend from his $450 million fortune what it takes. According to the New York Times, he has already given up majority ownership in Forbes, Inc. To avoid being labeled negative, he's going pre-emptively nice. "I like Bush personally. I would consider him for Vice President. His brother, too." If Forbes peels off conservative votes, it increases the chances of a McCain nomination. The Senator from Arizona should go to Iowa and campaign for Forbes.


MORE TIME STORIES:

Cover Date: November 15, 1999

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