TOPICS > Politics

Iowa or Bust?

February 9, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was 25 degrees below zero in Davenport, Iowa, last week.


BETTY ANN BOWSER: Inside the Good News Nondenominational Church, there was no heat, but these Midwest religious conservatives are a determined lot. With the Iowa Republican Caucus just days away, there was work to be done.

DAVE KARWOSKI, Iowa Christian Coalition: We are putting out 200,000 voter guides throughout the whole state of Iowa today and next Sunday because one of the things that the Iowa Christian Coalition, their mission is to influence public policy, to be able to have public policy that would be family-friendly, and so forth, and so the only way that’s going to happen is if we elect candidates that feel those–have those same values.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Dave Karwoski is a religious conservative, a member of the Christian Coalition, and a veteran of many Republican political contests. He and wife, Lynn, met as young political neophytes back in 1988, when they helped religious broadcaster Pat Robertson come from almost nowhere to finish second in that year’s Presidential caucus.

DAVE KARWOSKI: What we did with that organization was put together conservatives from all the different Presidential campaigns that basically had the one premise that they were right to life. That is a very, very important issue to many of us in the political realm, and from that point there, we just networked with hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people, and, and I think you’re seeing the fruit of that now in Iowa, as well as the nation.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Christian conservatives form a powerful force in Iowa Republican circles. On Monday night, when voters come to their neighborhood schools and community centers to take part in the caucus process, an estimated 40 percent of all the votes cast are expected to come from the religious right. And while they are united ideologically, this year they are split over whom they want to win. The Karwoskis are working for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, considered by most experts to be the front-runner in a race that includes nine candidates. Dole says he is opposed to abortion, but as he crisscrosses the state, what he talks about mostly are his many years in the Senate.

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I read today in the “USA Today” that people don’t like Bob Dole because he’s had experience. Well, sorry, I thought experience was necessary. I’ve always thought, you know, a surgeon has to have a first patient, but I never wanted to be the first patient.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Dole has irritated some conservatives by refusing to sign a pledge to urge party leaders to keep an anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform. Still, the Karwoski family is rallying around a candidate they believe can beat President Clinton.

LYNN KARWOSKI, Dole Supporter: I think you can start with idealism and then gradually move towards realism without a great deal of compromise. So we need to move from, uh, again, that idealistic hope or belief to who’s the most electable, again, though, without compromising what we believe is so very important to us.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Karwoskis’ good friend, Bruce Kirkberg, is supporting anti-abortion Republican Pat Buchanan.

PATRICK BUCHANAN: And I will give all my energy and fire and ability to keep my party a pro-life party in 1996 and forever after.

BRUCE KIRKBERG, Buchanan Supporter: His pro-life stand, one of the most beautiful things that I like about it is that it’s absolutely unwavering, and it’s absolutely articulated at every level.

SPOKESMAN: Well, we’re going to play a video and then we’re going to do a little role playing as far as the caucus–

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Buoyed by a major upset victory in Louisiana on Tuesday, largely engineered by the religious right, Buchanan’s foot soldiers are hoping a finely-tuned political organization will get people out to vote on Monday in Iowa and propel Buchanan into a head-on contest with Dole. This week, they conducted a caucus training seminar for campaign workers.

TRAINER: You must get there early and you must get your vote in, and you must–it’s best if you know what’s going to happen because organization is where you can’t get rolled by the other candidates.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Participating in a caucus requires time and effort, so the Buchanan supporters were taught how to conduct themselves in a caucus and to keep their man’s message out front.

SPOKESMAN: Tell the people basically why it is that you support Pat Buchanan, and the best speech will be the speech that comes from your heart.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Texas Sen. Phil Gramm is the candidate Buchanan upset on Tuesday in Louisiana. Like his opponents, he’s trying to tap into the Iowa conservatives’ concern for social issues.

PHIL GRAMM: As President, I will stop the funding for abortion on demand and for those who advocate it. (applause)

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Gramm has campaigned especially hard in Iowa. He’s put volunteers in practically all of the state’s 2,142 precincts.

SPOKESMAN: (on phone) I was wondering if you had decided on a candidate yet to support in the caucuses. Who would that be? You think you’re going with Gramm? Really? All right.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Roger Mall is a precinct chairman and religious conservative in Davenport. Like volunteers in the other campaigns, he’s concerned about getting a good turnout on Monday night. He knows it isn’t easy to convince people to spend an entire evening at a caucus.

ROGER MALL, Gramm Supporter: It’s one thing to on your way home after work, on the way to the 7-Eleven, stop in and pull a lever in a primary. It’s another thing to sit down, to know you’re going to have to discuss issues with people in a small group setting, people you might not know, people you do know. Maybe that’s even harder, people that you do know. So that requires a commitment that you just don’t see elsewhere.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Only one of the nine candidates in the race, businessman Morry Taylor, supports abortion rights. Former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, Senator Richard Lugar, Congressman Robert Dornan, former Ambassador Alan Keyes, and millionaire businessman Steve Forbes say they oppose abortion.

STEVE FORBES: I’d oppose abortions in late pregnancy, barring a life-threatening emergency. I’d oppose it for purposes of sex selection for the baby. I’d oppose mandatory government funding on a sensitive issue like that and being the father of five daughters, I would support parental notification in the case of minors. To move beyond that is going to take persuasion.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Religious conservatives say they are uncomfortable with Forbes’ position, and they complain he has spent less time in Iowa than any of his opponents.

STEVE FORBES: (ad) I’m Steve Forbes. I think it’s wrong to spend taxpayers’ money on political campaigns.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Instead of mounting a grassroots organization, Forbes has spent more than $4 million in Iowa on television advertising alone.

STEVE FORBES: (ad) We need a flat tax that’s a tax cut. It’s simple; it’s honest; and that’s a big change for Washington.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Forbes media blitz has frustrated the other candidates because they are bound by federal campaign spending limits. Forbes is not, because he is spending his own money.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: How do you explain the seemingly– the surge of Steve Forbes, who has virtually no organization?

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Let’s try $5 million.

SEN. PHIL GRAMM: It’s very easy to explain, and that is that Forbes is spending money at a rate no one has ever spent money before. I, I guess I would have to say I believe in the old jingle, “Money can’t buy you love.” Maybe it helps you get–find it; I don’t know. But I don’t believe it can buy you the Presidency.

MARK POLASCHEK (on phone) We would handle all the paperwork to transfer that account.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Stockbroker and Forbes volunteer Mark Polaschek isn’t the least bit concerned about Forbes’ spending spree.

MARK POLASCHEK, Forbes Supporter: I don’t like the fact–I love the fact that Steve Forbes is spending his own money. He can do with his money just as you and I can, which is spend it on anything. That’s the freedom America provides.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Jeff Boeyink, who heads the state’s largest Political Action Committee, is concerned about the implications of that freedom. Iowans for Tax Relief is preparing a voter’s guide that will be sent to its 51,000 members over the weekend.

JEFF BOEYINK, Iowans for Tax Relief: If Steve Forbes does well, it shows that you can buy just about anything, and it probably diminishes the value of the caucuses in Iowa, because if you don’t have to organize, if you can simply come in and run ads and spend money, then we probably won’t get the attention four years from now that we’re getting right now.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And what does that mean?

JEFF BOEYINK: I’m not sure if it’s scary. It’s not good necessarily for a grassroots organization like ours, that three years of campaign strategy goes out the window and we’re all going to have to re-figure how we do it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In this final week, Forbes’ opponents are trying to re-figure how to do it by playing up his inexperience. Dole has placed more than 100 television ads, many of them negative like this one.

SPOKESMAN: (ad) Steve Forbes, untested, just not ready for the job.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: University of Iowa Social Scientist Arthur Miller, who conducts the Heartland Poll, says this war of the airwaves is turning voters off in unprecedented numbers.

PROFESSOR ARTHUR MILLER, University of Iowa: And among those people who previously had a leaning, leaning towards some candidate or another, or even were undecided, as those negative campaigns came along, as people became dissatisfied with the way the campaign was going, they, in a sense, rather than making up their minds, decided that they didn’t want to have anything to do with this, they became undecided, and probably will now not even go and participate.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Iowa caucus goers from small towns and farms across the state have more influence in election year politics than voters in most other states. And conventional wisdom says that in order to win here a campaign must be organized. On Monday, that conventional wisdom will get a test.