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Dole Wins, Buchanan Places And Alexander Shows Iowa Caucuses Suggest It’s Still A Horse Race For Gop Nomination

TUESDAY, FEB. 13, 1996

His margin clear but hardly convincing, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the self-described “president of Iowa,” won the state’s Republican caucus vote for the second time Monday.

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Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan, who successfully galvanized religious conservatives, finished a surprisingly close second. And former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander provided perhaps the most electric result, surging to third place.

With 96 percent of the vote counted, Dole had 26 percent, Buchanan 23 percent and Alexander 18 percent.

Dole, 72, who would be the oldest man elected president in his first term, won overwhelming majorities of senior citizens, while Buchanan won equally persuasive numbers of religious conservatives, who made up at least one third of the vote.

“Thank you, Iowa,” Dole told cheering supporters. “It’s twice in a row. … Tonight was the first big step on our road to return conservative common sense to the White House.”

Buchanan’s showing provided powerful evidence of the role of religious conservatives among Iowa’s party activists and of Buchanan’s muscular communications skills embodied in his message of “conservatism of the heart.”

Though Buchanan has a potent following, particularly in New Hampshire, it is Alexander who will try to make the case that he emerged as the principal alternative to Dole.

Publisher Malcolm “Steve” Forbes Jr., who had changed the character of the caucus race with an unprecedented level of spending on television advertising, finished a disappointing fourth. Closely bunched near Forbes were Texas Sen. Phil Gramm and radio talk show host Alan Keyes.

In a sense, Forbes was a victim of his own lofty poll numbers in a caucus state, where organization can be important.

Just a week ago, surveys showed him closing in on Dole, but his opponents launched a fierce and effective counterattack that drove him into a lower-tier finish. And some believed that the negative tenor of Forbes’ own ads turned some Iowans against him.

Undaunted, Forbes declared: “We’re very excited and we’re moving forward to New Hampshire.”

Gramm, who had begun the campaign as the best financed and best organized candidate, dropped precipitously, strongly calling into question whether his campaign can continue. Buchanan clearly wrested a good share of the more conservative vote from Gramm.

Dole now heads to New Hampshire, where voters have never been kind to him, for the next, perhaps more severe test of his status as the favorite to win his party’s presidential nomination.

Dole’s Iowa victory, following an unexpectedly strong challenge in a state where he is called the third senator, affirms his position as the favorite to win his party’s nomination.

It also was a testament to the power of having the weight of the Republican establishment behind him in almost all key early states. In Iowa, Dole benefited from the political support of Iowa’s most powerful Republicans, Sen. Charles Grassley and Gov. Terry Branstad. As he arrives in New Hampshire, Dole has the backing of its popular governor, Steve Merrill.

But his win on Monday was diminished by the fact that roughly seven in 10 caucus participants rejected Dole. In 1988, Dole won the caucuses with 37 percent of the vote in a six-man field that included then-Vice President George Bush.

And the highly negative nature of the Iowa campaign left many in the field tarred as the candidates raced to New Hampshire on Monday night.

Buchanan, who combines a bombastic message of economic nationalism with intense social conservatism, has shown remarkable stamina so far. But the Dole campaign also was pleased with the result because they do not believe Buchanan can seriously challenge Dole for the nomination.

Appraising Dole and Buchanan, Alexander contended that he would make the most electable Republican nominee against the Democratic president. Alexander said Dole’s failure to match the 37 percent he received in the 1988 caucus was “a sign of weakness.” Buchanan’s strong conservative message, Alexander said, “is wrong for our party and wrong for our country.”

Dole must do well in New Hampshire, a state where he saw his nomination chances expire in 1980 and crumble in 1988.

While no candidate who finished worse than third in Iowa has gone on to win the GOP nomination, New Hampshire has been an unerring barometer, as every Republican president since 1952 was elected after winning the primary.

New Hampshire offers a different landscape. Social issues such as abortion will not be as important as they were in Iowa, and voters in New Hampshire have a legendary contrarian streak that could turn Iowa’s results upside down.

Forbes’ impact on the Iowa race, despite his fourth-place finish, was beyond dispute. Starting with his heavily promoted flat-tax proposal, he steered the debate among candidates from social to economic issues. He also tapped into a deep vein of resentment about official Washington.

But when social conservatives painted Forbes as “too liberal on social issues” in the final days of the Iowa campaign, it created an opportunity for Buchanan.

Keyes remains a quixotic force in the campaign. For the most fervent opponents of abortion, he offers the purest anti-abortion position and seems to have a small, but immovable, base of support.

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, whose strategy was based on Dole’s faltering, failed decisively to excite voters, with little promise that New Hampshire will redeem his under-funded campaign.

Still planning to campaign in New Hampshire, but with no chance at the nomination, are Rep. Robert Dornan of California and Maurice Taylor, chief executive officer of Titan Wheel International in Quincy, Ill.

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