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Gop Rivals Compete For Conservative Vote Presidential Candidates Challenge Others’ Sincerity, Credentials

The major Republican presidential candidates, shuttling through key early Midwestern states, jousted Saturday for backing from anti-tax conservatives by pledging smaller, less costly government.

In a hectic political weekend, all the GOP hopefuls sounded themes designed to appeal to increasingly conservative party activists. Many suggested the issue boils down to who the party faithful can believe.

Front-running Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole was, not surprisingly, most often singled out as the least credible. Dole chalked it up to the price of offering leadership.

“Who can you trust?” asked Pat Buchanan, a former television commentator. “Who was there and said it when no one else did?”

At a meeting of an anti-tax group in Des Moines, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander warned against promises from GOP candidates who already hold office.

“The first thing that needs to be said is that everyone who stands up here today who has ever held public office has voted at one time or another to raise taxes,” said Alexander. “There will be some tiptoeing about that today.”

The major presidential candidates spent their day shuttling between a meeting of 2,000 Republican activists in Michigan, and the anti-tax forum in Des Moines.

Conservative themes dominated both meetings, with all the candidates talking about shrinking the federal government and each arguing he is the one who really means what he says.

Texas Sen. Phil Gramm claimed the title of the consistent conservative, and accused Dole of just recently drifting to the right on “everything from quotas to signing the pledge against raising taxes.”

Dole, speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in Mackinac Island, Mich., said his record shows he has been “consistently mainstream conservative.”

“I’ve been out on the firing line,” he said. “He sits on the back row and fires away, but I’m out providing leadership while he’s issuing press releases.”

Gramm, meanwhile, easily won a straw poll of the Minnesota Republican Party, winning three times more votes than Dole, his closest rival. Gramm was the only presidential candidate attending the event in Mankato, Minn.

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