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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Stuart Rothenberg: Favorites win in Iowa, but Bush still has a fight

By Stuart Rothenberg

January 25, 2000
Web posted at: 12:16 a.m. EST (0516 GMT)

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Vice President Al Gore slammed opponent Bill Bradley in Monday night's Iowa Caucuses, increasing the heat on the former New Jersey senator to win in New Hampshire next Tuesday.

With nearly a 2-to-1 victory in hand and leading in the latest polls in the Granite State, Gore demonstrated that the Democratic nomination is his to lose.

Bradley's campaign must now re-group in New Hampshire, where he has found a more favorable audience. He must decide whether to change his message and tone -- possibly becoming more comparative with Gore -- or stick with his current issues and themes.

But while Bradley is in a political hole after Iowa, it would be a mistake to write him off too quickly. If Iowa rewards candidates who have party and interest group support, New Hampshire seems to prefer quirky candidates who challenge the conventional wisdom and offer a future-oriented vision. At the least, that gives Bradley a chance to get back into the Democratic race, since a win by the former senator in New Hampshire would erase much of the memory of Iowa and lead to a showdown with the vice president on March 7th.

In the GOP contest, Texas Gov. George W. Bush finished first, followed by Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes. All three have reasons to be happy.

By winning in Iowa, Bush confirmed his status as the favorite for the Republican presidential nomination. He broke the previous GOP caucus record of 37.4 percent, established by Bob Dole in 1988. The Texas governor easily bested his father's two Iowa showings of 31.6 percent in 1980 and 18.6 percent in 1988.

But Bush's margin certainly wasn't what some of his boosters had expected or hoped for. He probably needed a more convincing 15-point margin to be able to claim momentum coming out of Iowa. He didn't get it.

And the showings of Forbes and Keyes -- both stronger than expected and considerably better than in 1996 (when Forbes drew 10.2 percent and Keyes attracted 7.4 percent) -- can only encourage them to take their campaigns to New Hampshire. Anyone who has watched those two candidates knows that they are certain to attack Bush from the right and raise issues that make moderate Republicans uncomfortable.

The Iowa results have to please John McCain's campaign, as well. For while Bush won the caucuses, he still is caught in New Hampshire in a cross-fire between McCain, who is running as a moderate outsider, and Forbes and Keyes, the social issue conservatives who seem to relish bashing the Texas governor on abortion, trade and taxes.

New Hampshire remains an important test for the four Republicans who survived Iowa: Bush, McCain, Forbes and Keyes. McCain still has an outside chance of overtaking Bush for the nomination, with Forbes and Keyes will be looking to make showings that are strong enough to keep them in the race and get them attention for the next round of primaries.

The big loser in the GOP race was conservative Gary Bauer, who finished in fourth place, well behind Keyes.

Why did Bauer fail to excite voters in a state with a large percentage of Christian conservatives?

Even Bauer's advisors aren't sure, but they speculate that the former Reagan administration official's more issue-oriented and analytical approach failed to grab anti-establishment, religious-oriented conservatives who are angry about liberalism (particularly about abortion, moral relativism and taxes) and the political establishment. Keyes more passionate style apparently appealed more to voters than Bauer's more measured style.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch trailed all of the other Republicans, including McCain, who didn't campaign actively in the state. That guarantees a quick exit for Hatch, whose Senate seat is up for reelection in November.

The bottom line is clear: The front runners won in Iowa, but New Hampshire is another day, and most of the presidential hopefuls will continue on.


Bush, Gore victors in Iowa caucuses (1-24-00)


Monday, January 24, 2000

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