Steve Forbes, beleaguered by charges that he is a “social liberal,” snapped at the Christian Coalition Friday and accused his opponents of making anonymous phone calls to misrepresent his position on abortion and gays in the military.
Other Republican candidates were scornful of Forbes’ complaint - Patrick Buchanan called it the whining of a “little rich kid” - as the struggle for the religious right reached a strident new pitch in final weekend of the Iowa campaign.
Forbes suddenly switched from his role as a soft-spoken exponent of the flat tax to take on a petulant tone during an appearance at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in northeast Iowa.
He suggested that Christian conservative leaders were mobilizing against him without good reason, and he said the Christian Coalition, a powerful force in the Republican Party, “does not speak for most Christians. It speaks only for its members.”
He also claimed his opponents were “misrepresenting my positions on abortion, the flat tax, Social Security and gays in the military” through anonymous pamphlets and telephone calls to Iowa voters.
Although Forbes did not identify any rivals responsible for what he called an “organized effort,” his campaign manager, Bill Dal Col, charged that Buchanan, Sen. Bob Dole, and Pat Robertson, an ultraconservative Republican candidate in 1988, were “trying to demonize (Forbes) on social issues.”
The wealthy magazine publisher, who already has spent millions of dollars on television advertising to attack his opponents while moving himself from political obscurity to prominence, was prepared to buy a half-hour of TV time in Iowa Sunday night to defend himself on his own program.
Dal Col, Forbes’ chief aide, said the candidate was being victimized by a insidious campaign.
“Anonymous callers say: ‘Did you know Steve Forbes is for abortion on demand?’ They say: ‘Do you know he’s for gays in the military?’ And then they hang up,” Dal Col said.
“We’re not making phone calls,” Dole said after arriving back in Iowa. He dismissed the Forbes’ allegations and professed not to know Forbes’ position on gays in the military.
Even as Dole minimized his part in the last-minute effort to bring Forbes down, the Dole campaign invested heavily in a weekend television assault that features ads aimed at Forbes and tagged “more liberal than you think.”
Buchanan, in a telephone interview, called Forbes’ claim “flat out wrong and false to its core.”
Buchanan said he had publicly described Forbes as “the most pro-abortion candidate in the race” and did not need to resort to anonymous calls.
“Dal Col owes us an apology,” he said.