Kansas Sen. Bob Dole won a big victory in the opening round of the 1988 Republican presidential campaign in Iowa on Monday night, but former television evangelist Pat Robertson scored the biggest surprise by finishing second and relegating Vice President George Bush to a dismal third-place finish.
"We got whipped," George Bush Jr., the vice president's oldest son, acknowledged as the startling returns came in from the nearly 2,500 precinct caucuses around the state where Iowa Republicans expressed their preference for their party's 1988 presidential nominee.
And the results raised serious questions about the ability of Bush, the longtime leader in the race for the nomination, to bounce back next Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary, where until now the polls have given him a comfortable lead.
Creating further uncertainty in the GOP competition was the enhanced status of Robertson, who, as a result of his showing here, has to be considered a formidable presence at least through the Southern regional primaries on Super Tuesday, March 8.
Nearly complete returns put New York Rep. Jack Kemp in fourth place, ahead of former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV. Former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., who abandoned his campaign effort here last fall, was last.
With 2,439 precincts out of a total of 2,487--or 98%--reporting, these were the returns: Dole 40,627 (37%); Robertson 26,711 (25%); Bush 20,160 (19%); Kemp 12,065 (11%); Du Pont 7,970 (7%); Haig 412 (0%); No Preference 782 (1%).
These results were based on a straw poll of caucus participants and did not directly indicate the potential makeup of Iowa's 37-member delegation to the Republican National Convention, which will be determined at county, district and state conventions between now and June 25.
Nevertheless, the results here were considered to be of great symbolic importance because the caucuses represented the first opportunity for Republican voters to play a direct role in the selection of convention delegates. Moreover, the campaign here had involved all the Republican contenders except Haig in major efforts.
Dole's victory here had been expected because of polls showing him ahead, but his margin of 12 points over Robertson and 18 over Bush was even bigger than the surveys had suggested.
Nevertheless, Dole was relatively restrained in his victory statement, perhaps because he was as surprised as nearly everyone else by the strength of Robertson's showing here.
Dole called the result "a rather clear-cut victory." But then, he added: "I've been saying for a long time it's a two-person race. I thought it was going to be (against) George Bush. I don't know what this means."
"I think it puts a whole new face on it, at least out of Iowa," Dole said of the upcoming primaries. "We haven't talked about it. We thought Bush would finish second."
When asked if he was worried that Robertson may have entered the ranks of top two contenders, Dole said: "As long as I'm one of the two men in the race, I don't care who it is."
'Not the End of Bush'
Richard B. Wirthlin, Dole's pollster and a longtime adviser to President Reagan, said that the result here will clearly narrow the gap between Dole and Bush, who has been the front-runner in the GOP race since its beginning. But he added: "This is not the end of Bush."
Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Dole's chief supporter in the state, called the results "a major upset." But he contended that, despite Robertson's strong showing here, the contest remains "a Dole-Bush race."
"We're still 20 points behind," he said, referring to the big lead Bush enjoyed in national polls before the Iowa vote.
Grassley was skeptical about whether Robertson could perform as well in primary states, where his organizational strength will not give him the advantage it represents in caucus states such as Iowa.
"Robertson's main contribution has been the wounding of Vice President Bush," Grassley said. "We'll see what else he can do."
Robertson was understandably jubilant. "This is the test that I have looked for to see if the base that was supporting me could indeed be broadened," he said. "And I think the people have given a loud assent to the fact that I am reaching out to all Americans. I won't just be a candidate of some special interest group, but I'm going to be a candidate for all the people."
Then he declared: "Coming out of this caucus night, I am now the conservative candidate."
Kerry Moody, Robertson's spokesman in Iowa, agreed on the damage to the vice president, saying that Bush had been "crippled" by the Iowa vote. "But he can rebound, and he's still the front-runner nationally," Moody said.
Iowa 'Behind Us'
That was much the same refrain being sounded by Bush's strategists and supporters. "Iowa is behind us," said George Bush Jr. "Round 2 is over," he said, apparently referring to the Michigan caucuses, where Bush won the majority of delegates last month, as Round 1. "Round 3 starts tomorrow in New Hampshire.
"Don't discount him," the younger Bush said of his father. "He's a winner."
In New Hampshire, where he had flown Monday well before the caucuses began, the vice president said he was "not bitter because I think there was some anticipation of that (his loss here). He added: "Look, I wanted to do better. But I'm a fighter, I'm going to come back. . . . I'm not going to be slinking around."
When asked what Bush would do if he lost in New Hampshire too, his national political director, Rich Bond, said: "We're not even thinking of a loss in New Hampshire."
Bond recalled Ronald Reagan's resurgence in New Hampshire in 1980 after he was defeated by Bush in the Iowa caucuses. In 1980 though, Reagan had five weeks to recover. Bush has only until next Tuesday.
Charles Black, campaign manager for Kemp, said that Dole had become the new front-runner in New Hampshire, where Bush has led strongly in the polls, and Kemp has been running third. "It will be extremely hard for him to recover," Black said of Bush.
The caucus straw vote tally marked the end to a long, costly and increasingly bitter struggle here in Iowa.
In a way, the campaign here took the shape of three separate contests:
--One was between Bush and Dole for first place.
--A second involved Kemp and Du Pont in a struggle to emerge as the new spokesman of conservatives and the alternative candidate to Bush and Dole.
--A third competition in effect pitted Robertson against all the other candidates and the traditional leadership of the GOP.
The front-runner almost everywhere else in the nation, Bush trailed Dole here in the polls, even though this was the state that vaulted Bush into national prominence in 1980 when he scored an upset victory over Reagan.
Son of the Farm Belt
Dole owed his advantage here in part to the fact that Reagan is not as popular with Iowans as he is with other Republicans and also because Kansan Dole was able to make much of his common background as a son of the Farm Belt.
"He's one of us," was the slogan that Dole used to sum up his message for Iowans.
In his many stump speeches in the state, Bush sought to emphasize his interest in education and Dole stressed his concern with the federal deficit, calling for a budget freeze. But no great substantive issues divided the two front-runners.
Instead, their contest will be remembered mainly for its nastiness and name calling. Bush aides, seeking to exploit charges that Dole had intervened to help a Senate aide get a government contract, accused him of "cronyism" and tried to remind voters of his frequently abrasive personality by labeling him "mean-spirited." They also referred to government investigations of a blind trust that had been established for Dole's wife, Elizabeth Hanford Dole.
An outraged Dole called this "gutter politics" and demanded, and received, an apology from Bush for the comments about Elizabeth Dole. Meanwhile, Dole referred to Bush being under "a cloud" because of continuing questions about the vice president's role in the Iran-Contra affair.
For their part, both Kemp and Du Pont boasted that unlike the two front-runners, their campaigns focused on issues. Kemp targeted his efforts mainly at such constituency groups as older people by stressing his unyielding support of Social Security, and "right to life" forces by reminding them of his opposition to abortion.
Du Pont's strategists tried to bring new voters into the caucus process by dramatizing his package of proposals for broad changes in economic and social policy. He called for mandatory drug testing for teen-agers, phasing out federal farm subsidies, requiring welfare recipients to work, providing those covered by Social Security with an alternative approach to saving and offering parents educational vouchers to give them a broader choice in selecting schools for their children.
Robertson's campaign here was the most unsettling to other Republicans both because of his unorthodox background and tactics and because he appeared to be drawing support from outside traditional GOP ranks, thus making it difficult for his rivals to gauge his strength.
The uneasiness was mutual. Robertson and his supporters were resentful of the outcome of the delegate-selection process in Michigan last month, where an alliance of Bush and Kemp supporters denied him a victory that he felt he had earned.
Robertson's suspicions of the party regulars were reflected in his announcement last week that his supporters would conduct an independent count of the caucus straw vote, rather than rely on the tabulating system established by party officials. "Sometimes people don't count right on election night," Robertson said.
That prompted party officials to call a press conference, assert their honesty and produce statements of confidence from all the candidates competing here except Robertson.
Mindful that his religious background was viewed as a hindrance to his candidacy, Robertson sought to turn this disadvantage into a strength with a striking advertisement in Sunday's Des Moines Register that took up two pages.
On one page was a picture of John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic elected to the presidency, over the words: "In 1960, the opposition said this candidate wasn't fit to be President. Why? Because of his religion."
On the facing page was a photo of Robertson over the words: "In 1988, the opposition is saying the same thing about this man."
Time, Energy, Money
All the candidates lavished time, energy and money on this Midwestern farm state, far more than they will expend on much bigger states which pick their delegates later in the political calendar.
The extent of the effort was reflected in a Des Moines Register tabulation of campaign days spent in the state, dating back to 1986.
According to the Register's count, the least known of the active candidates spent the most time here, with Du Pont putting in 91 campaign days and Kemp accumulating 69. Next were the two front-runners in the pre-caucus polls, Dole with 48 days and Bush with 38.
THE IOWA VOTE Republicans Results of straw poll taken at beginning of caucuses.
98% of precincts reporting.
Bob Dole 40,627 37% Pat Robertson 26,711 25% George Bush 20,160 19% Jack Kemp 12,065 11% Pierre du Pont 7,970 7% Alexander Haig 412 --% No Preference 782 1%
Delegates to the National GOP convention will be selected at a series of party meetings in the spring in a process largely unrelated to the straw ballot.
Democrats Results of raw vote count taken at beginning of caucuses.
70% of precincts reporting.
Richard Gephardt 24,116 28% Paul Simon 21,397 24% Michael Dukakis 18,036 21% Jesse Jackson 9,764 11% Bruce Babbitt 8,043 9% Gary Hart 895 1% Al Gore 192 --% Uncommitted 5,429 6%
Projection of national delegates won in the Iowa caucuses. Fifty-two of the state's 58 delegates will be selected during caucus process. Candidates who did not receive at least 15% support in a precinct were eliminated.
Richard Gephardt 21 Paul Simon 17 Michael Dukakis 12 Bruce Babbitt 0 Jesse Jackson 0 Gary Hart 0 Al Gore 0 Uncommitted 2
Source: News Election Service, AP