Campaign 2000: Notes from the Iowa Straw Poll

(The following dispatches were filed in the summer of 1999, during the week leading up to the Iowa Republican Straw Poll, the first real test of the 2000 presidential campaign.)

SOMERSET, Iowa. Aug. 7 -- In a half-filled Turkish bath disguised as a Midwestern high school gymnasium, bookended by an American flag and the flag of Iowa ("Our Liberties We Prize And Our Rights We Will Maintain"), the candidate is being stared down by a small but intense woman in a garish green polka dot dress.

"How come," she asks, speaking into a dead microphone, "when I pay my taxes, the government keeps the money for weeks, sometimes months, before I get my refund? Why can't I at least get the interest on the money they're holding?"

The candidate smiles benevolently, trying to win her over. "Let's examine the issue. Last year, you received a federal refund of $383.24. The check was placed in your mailbox at 2:14 PM on May 12th, exactly five weeks, three hours and eight-and-a-half minutes after you sent in your tax return. Had you received the refund upon filing, and assuming you immediately placed all of it in a savings account paying 4.35%, the going interest rate at the time, you would have earned an additional $16.67. For the record, right after you received the refund you immediately spent $129.95 of it to buy yourself that attractive dress. You made an excellent choice."

The woman blushes. Score one for the candidate.

"However, the previous year you owed the federal government $451.91, mostly due to the extra deduction you claimed for your son, Harmon, who was still living with you and had yet to leave for college, which he did on Sept. 5th. You also claimed your ex-husband as a dependant after he temporarily lost his job at the phone company, an incorrect filing which should be investigated. As a result, you were drawing interest on what was actually the government's money. Now, I'm not here to say it always works out equally for everyone, but you can see how it changes from year to year and from person to person. Does that answer your question?"

Stunned, if not won over, the woman (Florence Wendell, of Davenport) sits down. Later, she concedes that the candidate "certainly knows his facts," but falls short in the charisma department. "He's no George W," she says, somewhat ruefully, adding that she's "really tilting toward Liddy Dole." Perhaps this is an early indication of a Dole groundswell among moderate Republican women, but it doesn't bode well for the God For President campaign, which comes into Iowa at the last minute, with little money, and with little more than a glimmer of hope of finishing in the top four here, let alone a close third behind front-runners Bush and Forbes.

An hour later, as young, well-scrubbed volunteers pass out buttons that say "I Like God," a not-so-subtle allusion to the Eisenhower era, a small group of local civic leaders surrounds the candidate at McKenna's Mobil station near US 6.

"Where were you on NAFTA?" asks Harold Parker, a car dealership owner (Parker Lincoln-Mercury) and obviously in favor of it.

"Let's examine the issue," the candidate begins, taking off on an intricate, detailed history of American foreign trade policy since the Monroe administration, so detailed that the eyes of his listeners glaze over and the ice cubes in their lemonades melt. God's ability to answer every question correctly and in the minutest detail has impressed the political science professors and editorial page writers, but it has yet to light a fire under the moderate Republican voters of Iowa. An old newspaper wag remarked, "He's like the Internet -- infinite amount of boring information."

Later, huddled around a fold-out table in the back of the campaign bus, Lanny Yohalem, who runs the campaign, and two of his lieutenants, Penny Noone and Jack Pulito, drink massive amounts of coffee and agonize over the latest poll results.

"Look at this," Yohalem shakes his head in disbelief. "Ten flawed, superficial facemen and one flawed, superficial facewoman, and then you have a candidate who stands for honesty, integrity, a candidate with a deep understanding of all the issues -- as well as the collected knowledge of the entire freakin' universe -- and He's squeaky clean!"

"Have some coffee," suggests Ms. Noone, who comes to the campaign from advertising, where she wrote copy for, among other things, the alcoholic beverage Zima. There are no alcoholic beverages on this campaign -- at least not yet. It's all Java. In fact, if there's a winner so far in Iowa, it's Starbucks. As they say, it's the Brazilian economy, stupid.

Jack Pulito stops drinking coffee long enough to speak. "Here's the problem. The speeches have to be shorter -- much shorter -- and the answers more concise. And someone has to talk to Him about the 'Let's examine the issue' thing. If I hear 'Let's examine the issue' one more time I'm afraid I'll do something I'll regret for all eternity."

"We're talking to Ross (Ross Randolph, a top Washington speechwriter) tomorrow," Yohalem reassures, pouring himself another mug of mud. "He'll do some streamlining."

Penny Noone's stomach growls loud enough to elicit good-natured smiles from her colleagues. "I bet things aren't this loose on the Bauer bus," she smirks. They all laugh, but implicit in her remark is the difficult task that lays ahead: to gain, in barely a week, a solid share of the party's right wing voters -- the Bauer pro-lifers, the Forbes pro-aristocrats, the Buchanan pro-Nazis -- while at the same time maintaining a middle-of-the-road course that appeals to the moderates, the core supporters of Bush and Dole. For political strategists, it's the seven-ten split, and nearly impossible.

Here is where they stand one week before the straw vote, according to a telephone survey of 505 likely voters:

Bush: 30 %
Undecided: 22 %
Forbes: 12 %
Dole: 10 %
Buchanan: 6 %
God: 5 %
Bauer: 4 %
Quayle: 3 %
Alexander: 3 %
Keyes: 1 %
McCain: 1 % (Not campaigning in Iowa)
Hatch: 1 % (Entered at the last minute)
Smith: 1% (Jumped to U.S. Taxpayers Party)
Kasich: 1% (Withdrew his candidacy, endorsed Bush)

With a margin of error of about 5%, and with such a large number of undecideds, there's no telling what can happen. But, to pull off a miracle, God's going to have to haul ass. Send out for more coffee.


COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa. Aug. 8 -- It's Sunday, and the religiously righteous -- Bauer, Quayle, Keyes, Buchanan -- are hanging around the local churches for some of that old-time campaigning. But, in spite of the obvious identification with those who call themselves "religious," God's handlers have no intention of exploiting their man in such a debasing -- and expensive -- manner. Instead, they're throwing a big barbecue, with alcohol-free beer and soy burgers and franks, a lure for the living-in-moderation moderates (AA is a heavy contributor) that form the core of God's support in Iowa. Also, the soybeans are a local crop.

As an added gimmick, God is now being driven around the state in a bus powered by locally produced methanol, a corn derivative. All well and good -- until it breaks down and everyone is forced to spend three hours in Hannah's Breakfast Barn, a ramshackle diner popular with the Wal-Mart crowd. At Hannah's, "The coffee's always hot, and so's the conversation," according to the sign that greets the visitor -- that is, if you can see the sign through the haze of what seems like a perpetual grease fire in the kitchen. The menu is voluminous. It would give the Old Testament a run for sheer length, if not literary significance, although no one orders anything but the ham and eggs. There are forty-two kinds of flapjacks.

While stuck at Hannah's, the campaign braintrust (Lanny Yohalem, Penny Noone, Jack Pulito) huddles with the candidate in a rear booth, beneath a flickering Blatz Beer sign.

"Let's step up the agricultural subsidies stuff. Remember, we're in cow country," Penny suggests.

"How about a statement at the barbecue?" Jack wonders. "Like, 'A vote for me is a vote for your economic survival.'"

"Hey, that's nice," God mumbles.

"I like it, too. Let's go with it. Can we make the radio interview?" Lanny asks. "Is the bus ready?"

The bus is ready, and the candidate has a new slogan as He arrives for an interview with Farmer Don, a.k.a. Don Parsons, a radio host whose audience listens mainly for the latest feed and grain prices. His questions, naturally, stick to local concerns.

"Will your platform include any kind of relief for us farmers struggling to survive out here in the nation's breadbasket?" Farmer Don asks.

"Well, first let me say, in all honesty, you shouldn't represent yourself as a farmer. You've been working in radio since you were sixteen, when your dad set you up with a mailroom job at KCRG."

Farmer Don chuckles uncomfortably at this painful stripping-away of his facade.

"But, regarding your question," God continues, "yes, I have many programs in mind that can help the folks who give us our daily bread, as it were. In fact, a vote for me is a vote for your economic survival. And I'll give you better weather, too."

Lanny and Jack wince at this ad lib.

"We could use a little rain, what do you say?" Farmer Don jokes. But God does not have a sense of humor. "All right. How much?"

Lanny signals that they're running out of time, pointing to his watch and repeatedly doing the neck-slashing "cut" signal.

"Well, I think they're telling me that you have to get back on the campaign trail, but thanks for dropping by the Farmer Don Show and favoring us with a little bit of your infinite wisdom. And we'll be looking for that rain."


DUBUQUE, Iowa. Aug. 9 -- The day begins with laughter in a booth at Denny's. Someone has just read of the sudden interest by Democrats in a Warren Beatty candidacy, which leads to musings on a potential Beatty-God showdown next November.

"Do we have any numbers?" a half-serious Jack Pulito asks veteran pollster Art Finkleman.

"I'd favor God," Finkleman came back. "Think of the ammunition -- hell, Beatty's been linked to more women than Clinton."

As they begin to discuss the idea of a three-way race between Beatty, God, and Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Bob Lobell enters. Lobell is God's senior political adviser, a veteran of scores of campaigns. Before he even has a chance to sit down, Penny Noone asks him if he's concerned about the reaction people might have to their eating at Denny's, what with its bad reputation for "giving African-Americans the bum's rush," as she puts it. "Ask him," he says, pointing to Oscar Westbrook, the only African-American in the campaign inner circle, who is ignoring everything and eating like he hadn't seen food in weeks. Lobell laughs, and then orders. "I'll have what he's having."

When Jack Pulito mentions that Bush has an insurmountable lead, that he's a lock at this point, and that just coming in third would be a major victory, Lobell drifts into a rambling reminiscence about how things had changed since his days as a teenager when he would go door-to-door persuading non-registered non-citizens to vote for his uncle, "Big" Abe Lobell, one of the last of the powerful Chicago ward leaders. "We'd run down to the morgue to get their names."

Asked what the candidate has done toward putting out position papers on the major issues, he stops laughing and gets up and paces the room.

"Here's what we've done -- and I defy any of the others to match us -- we've laid out all our positions on every single issue that has been of interest to the American people for the last two hundred and twenty-three years. It's all on the record. In fact, it's the record of human history."

But, given that Americans today vote more for style than substance, was this enough?

"My father used to have a saying," Lobell lectures. "Deep down, even if you're a pretty face, you have to stand for something. And our guy stands for something."

When asked exactly what his candidate stood for, Lobell looks as if he'd been struck by lightning.

"What? Why, for everything good, and decent, and honorable -- family values, fiscal responsibility, the whole meshpuchah."

And wasn't that the basic agenda of the other Republican candidates -- not to mention the Democrats?

"But none of them have ever been moral leaders -- with a capital M! My guy has."

We're interrupted by one of the twenty-something volunteers, who rushes in and hands Lobell a cell phone.

"He wants to talk, Bob." Lobell takes the call.

"How's it goin'? You get some sleep? Oh, that's right." He covers the mouthpiece and whispers, "He never sleeps. Really."

The angry voice at the other end is the voice of God.

"You heard what I just said? You really are everywhere, aren't you? Did Lanny talk to you? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. That's tomorrow, at twelve-thirty. Of course, of course, you knew that already. Okay. Okay. I will. Right."

Lobell listens, nods, and occasionally grunts in agreement.

"What? Why was I thinking of what? Oh, yeah, I guess I was. Oops. Okay. Don't forget, the Kiwanis dinner is at -- right, okay. 'Bye."

He hangs up.

"He's amazing."

Asked about what seemed to be some venting by the candidate, a subdued Lobell shrugs.

"Tactical error. Corrective measures have been taken. No more red plaid shirts. And I have to admit, the big fella's right. If you start dressing like Lamar Alexander you're damn sure to end up with a Lamar Alexander kind of percentage -- single digits. Low single digits. Focus. We have to stay focused."


AMES, Iowa. Aug. 10 -- The banner is placed over the only window in the tiny strip mall storefront which is serving as campaign headquarters for the next few days. The banner, which the Republican Party says can be no bigger than 54 inches wide and 42 inches tall, will be unfurled at the straw poll on Sunday. Dave Ching, a grad student at Iowa State, and one of many 20-something volunteers working here, looks at it proudly.

He Knows What You Want

"What do you think?"

"It's hard to say," this reporter finds it hard to say.

"It isn't too ... boastful?" Ching asks.

"Well, it is the truth."

"Yes, but still ... "

Suddenly, a freckle-faced farm boy, Skip Tuttle, bursts in.

"Some of the new signs have been torn down," he announces breathlessly. Everything stops, and a crowd gathers around him.

"Let's hope it's by someone ahead of us in the polls," says Lanny Yohalem. "In fact, we should pay Bush's people to tear down our signs. In fact ... "

He grabs Skip and whispers to him, "Go out and tear down a few of our signs. Drop them in a dumpster outside Bush headquarters."


"Yes. Really."

The kid thinks about it for a second, races out, hops on his bicycle, and is gone. Then, Yohalem, Penny Noone, Jack Pulito, and Oscar Westbrook begin the daily strategy session. The main topic? Last night's embarrassing, near-disastrous Q&A at the Cedar Rapids Kiwanis dinner, a dinner attended by Forbes, Alexander, Quayle, Dole, and God. In a forum designed to get sound bites between bites of fried chicken, God became totally flummoxed when asked to describe the "perfect" president. He began to hem and haw, actually turning to Penny at one point for help. By the time he finally responded many in the audience weren't paying attention.

"It was never mentioned in the Gazette," Pulito points out, referring to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the paper of record in Cedar Rapids. "They played up Forbes, the absence of Bush, and the chicken. They liked the chicken."

"The Quad City Times had nothing," Westbrook says. "Not even the chicken."

"It wasn't in The Washington Post," adds Yohalem. "And that's all that really matters. But, to be safe, let's brief Him about how to handle any questions dealing with the concept of perfection, okay? And letÂ’s be better prepared for any other surprises, too. Oscar, Penny -- buzz the religion guy at Harvard and work up a fact sheet for tomorrow."


DES MOINES, Iowa. Aug. 11 -- Would God accept the second spot on the ticket? There's a rumor going around that says He will.

"And just who planted the rumor?" Lanny Yohalem asks himself. "The Bauer people, that's who. They're scared shitless of our man's drawing power with the fundamentalists, the evangelicals and the rest. Let me tell you, we beat them with that crowd, and we definitely beat them with the more traditional budget balancing bunch. We beat them every which way but up. We've got the numbers."

But, this reporter asks: should Bush prevail, as everyone expects, and Forbes, another rich guy, will never accept (nor will he be asked) to be No. 2, then wouldn't the perfect -- oops -- complement to ex-hellraiser George W be the author of the ten commandments?

"No," Yohalem replies. "We're in it for the duration. This fight goes the distance. If people want to speculate, let them. We're here to win -- it's the whole ball of wax or nothing. And that's on the record. No second spot for my boy."

Another curious thing occurs this afternoon. Legendary political prankster Rick Puck is spotted talking to Jack Pulito near the James H. Hilton Coliseum, the basketball arena for Iowa State University -- and the site of the straw poll. What were they discussing?

"Nothing," says Pulito. "He doesn't work for us." (Of course, Pulito would never admit to hiring Puck, best-known for stunts like tying Bob Dole's shoelaces together in 1996, and the legendary 1992 spiking of Ross Perot's coffee just before Perot went on Larry King and threw his fool's cap into the ring.) "Pure coincidence. End of discussion." Hmm.

On the ride from Des Moines to Council Bluffs, the candidate decides to hunker down with some reading. Unfortunately, the first thing God picks up is a magazine article about a recent survey done by a former CIA analyst that supposedly determines the most "famous" (actually most written about) people in history by scanning every single book in the Library of Congress.

"I can't believe I'm only third," He mutters in disbelief. Lanny Yohalem overhears. "Who finished first?" he asks.

"Jesus is first -- okay, I can live with that. But Shakespeare second? I barely nip Lenin for third! This is ridiculous."

"Look," Lanny points out, "You beat Lincoln, Marx, Plato. Hitler's fifteenth. Mozart's twenty-second. Dickens is twenty-eighth!"

"Have you ever read Bleak House?" God asks, rhetorically. "Besides, people don't write about Dickens. And what's Goethe doing up here at number eight? This is cockamamie." He goes back to the dozens of magazines and newspapers piled up on the adjoining seat, but looks bored. "I already know everything," He shrugs, stating the obvious.


COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa. Aug. 12 -- Today, in a simple, one-sentence press release, the campaign announces that "Our candidate has not used cocaine or any other illegal substance in the last twelve-and-a-half billion years."

Later, on one whistle stop after another, the brand new "streamlined" speech is employed. Here's a sample:

"My friends, whether you vote for me or not isn't important. What is important is that you get involved in the process. Don't give up your right to participate in deciding who runs this country. And, just because I created you in my image, don't let that be the reason to vote for me. Ask questions, go over the relative merits of all the candidates. Then decide for yourself. It's the most important decision you can make for your country." And so on.

Arnie Caulfield, an independent speechwriter and a keen observer of the political scene, has a critique.

"It's sort of like he's selling you a used car, not trying to convince you that He is the best qualified of the candidates to take over the ship of state. He should stress His record, His experience, bring up some of the good things He's done."

Just when an observer, keen or otherwise, is concluding that the campaign is running out of steam, God surprises everyone. That night, in a crucial appearance on the most-watched news program in the state, He kills.

"Good evening, I'm Maggie McMurtry, and this is 'Decision 2000,' a public affairs presentation of KCRG-TV Newscenter Nine. Tonight we continue our series of live interviews with the Republican presidential candidates participating in the upcoming straw poll. Our guest tonight, although he has never held elective office, certainly needs no introduction to our audience. God, just what made you decide to enter the race for president?"

"Maggie, I decided to run when I saw where this country was going -- the moral decay, the decadence, the greed -- and I put that together with the total vacuum of political leadership, and said to myself, hey, let's form an exploratory committee. And we did. And now we're here."

"But you're running up against some pretty deep pockets, in particular the two front-runners, George W. Bush and the billionaire Steve Forbes. That must give you pause."

"Certainly. But money isn't everything. Both those boys inherited great wealth, but they didn't inherit great wisdom. Just because I give you a genetic code with a tendency to facilitate a higher mental capacity doesn't guarantee you'll grow up to be Einstein. You could end up like Quayle. The bottom line is: you've got to earn it the old-fashioned way."

"Government today is so complex, do you feel you have the experience to keep such a massive bureaucracy running smoothly?"

"Young lady, I've been the C.E.O. of the largest organization ever, the universe. And, last I checked, the universe was expanding, and at an ever-increasing rate, so I feel my record speaks for itself. What have these other candidates done? I'll answer that question for you -- next to nothing."

"All right, if it comes down to the Republicans looking for the best candidate to beat the Vice President, Al Gore, tell us how you match up against Mr. Gore."

"If you're a voter stepping into the voting booth next year on November 7th, you'll have two choices: on the one hand, there's this Washington insider, a man associated with the failed morals of the Clinton administration, and on the other hand, me, the one who came up with the morals in the first place. In Gore, you have someone who took political donations from innocent and naive Buddhists. In me, you have someone who has taken only tithes, and none of it was for political purposes. And I'll swear to that."

"Where are you on campaign financing? Would you ban soft money?"

"Yes. Get rid of it. I would limit all political donations to one thousand dollars."

"What about free air time?"

"Yes. Enough free air time for the public to get a good idea of who they're voting for -- and who they're not voting for."

"In conclusion, then, tell the Republican voters of Iowa, in your own words, why they should vote for you."

"Fellow Iowans, and I do consider myself an Iowan, I want you to come to Ames on Sunday, I want you to listen to all that's being said by and about the dozen or so folks beseeching you to vote for them, and then I want you to cast your ballot, vote your conscience but, before you do, ask yourself this: Are you better off now than you were thirteen billion years ago? Thank you."


AMES, Iowa. Aug. 13 -- Today, the day before the big event, is the silliest of days, and Ames is in the vortex of a cyclone of silliness, if not surrealism. What could be more surreal than Gary Bauer visiting the state fair to see the Last Supper sculpted out of fresh, creamery butter. Meanwhile, over at the pork producers' tent, it's Lamar Alexander frying up some bacon for anyone who will come by and acknowledge his existence. An hour later he's frying up some okra at his Taste of Tennessee barbecue.

There's a rumor going around that Hootie and the Blowfish will perform on behalf of Bush tomorrow, and another that Margaret Thatcher will be flying in to put some iron into the Forbes campaign. These rumors turn out to be nothing more than that. Additional notions of appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Colin Powell remain notions.

However, Forbes does have Ronnie Milsap and Debbie Boone. And George W can boast of Roger Staubach and Johnny Morris (the world champion bass fisherman), but all in all, the star power is strictly "B" list.

Liddy Dole has the undying support of her sorority sisters from Delta Delta Delta, who are holding their national convention in Ames at the same time as the straw poll -- a happy coincidence.

And then there's songwriter/senator Orrin Hatch, who has that hot young crooner Vic Damone singing his praises, if not his greatest hits. God has Al Martino. Kind of a wash, until you remember that Al Martino was in "The Godfather" (remember the Sinatra-esque Johnny Fontane?), and more people here have seen that movie than can remember the last time Vic Damone was on the charts. And, the God-Godfather association, while tangential, doesn't hurt.

The day goes by in a blur, a hot summer day on the great American midway -- great food, great rides, and great promises -- a true vision of democracy. Did God stand a chance amid this Barnum-like atmosphere?

"Jimmy Carter was piss-poor before he got going in '76," Jack Pulito points out. "The way we see it, we're one cocaine-dealer-coming-forward away from moving up to number three."

That's the kind of optimism that gets people into politics in the first place, I thought. I knew God was listening.


AMES, Iowa. Aug. 14 -- It's like Fort Lauderdale on spring break, but with mostly senior citizens. With an estimated 30,000 in attendance, the atmosphere is charged, both inside and outside the Hilton Coliseum. Inside, on stage, a chorus line of the brightest lights of the Republican Party: Bush, Forbes, Dole, Bauer, God, Buchanan, Alexander, Quayle, Keyes, waving to the adoring white people. No John McCain, he passed, and no Orrin Hatch, although NBA star Karl Malone is in the Hatch tent signing autographs on his behalf. (I never found out if he was signing his name, or Hatch's.)

No question, this is the cheapest ticket in town -- it's free (after a $25 rebate from the campaign of your choice). But, there are rules:

Voting begins at 2 PM and ends at 8:15.

Eligible to vote: anyone who turns 18 by Nov. 7, 2000, has a photo ID, lives in Iowa, and is alive.

Each candidate gets 13 minutes for their speech and presentation. The microphone will be turnedoff after 13 minutes, or 13 cliches, whichever comes first.

No stickers. If a candidate's sticker is discovered inside the Coliseum the campaign is charged a $5 clean-up fee. Nothing about gum.

No Silly String. Nothing about Silly Putty.

No Mylar balloons. Nothing about condoms.

Once you vote, your left thumb is dunked in an indelible red ink, making you literally stick out like a sore thumb. This, of course, is to prevent you from voting more than once, a staple of previous straw polls.

And these voters aren't just casually dropping in, they're bused in from all over the state, handed horns, whistles, noisemakers, banners, silly hats, and asked to scream like banshees. It seems so incongruous, such wild, passionate behavior in support of some of the most emotionless, passionless, soulless people on the planet -- Republicans. But, it's politics as usual.

Outside there are stilt walkers, water slides, a dunking tank, face painters for the under-17 crowd, plus the chance to go rappelling down Steve Forbes's inflatable mountain, symbolizing his mountain of money. And an endless supply of T-shirts are for sale, all the proceeds going to the party that lives by the credo: greed is good. Even the compassionate conservatives reek of it.

"We're the only ones speaking of human values, of things that really matter," bemoans Lanny Yohalem at the God tent in the North parking lot -- not the best location, but certainly not the worst: the Keyes tent is behind the porta-potties. On the other hand, the Forbes tent is huge, and has air conditioning.

Inside, on his way to the podium, Gary Bauer does a classic floperoo, landing squarely on his pious posterior. Everyone shoots a suspicious glance at Jack Pulito, who acts like he hadn't noticed.

The candidates' speeches are all pretty much boilerplate stump jobs, loaded with the kinds of homilies they spout in their sleep. God doesn't exactly set a bush on fire with His new, streamlined model, either. This happens because the so-called "delegates" vote for the candidate who paid their way in, or, if they were given tickets by several candidates, they vote their stomach. Best ribs, one vote.

Finally, the food runs out, the line at the porta-potties is a mile long, and it's approaching the witching hour of 8:15.

"Last chance!" screams a party official at hog-calling volume.

"I'm turning in," Lanny Yohalem announces, suggesting it's time to stop campaigning, and to get some sleep.


AMES, Iowa. Aug. 15 -- No one's drinking coffee on the plane back home. Here are the results of yesterday's Iowa Straw Poll:

Bush: 31 %
Forbes: 21 %
Dole: 14 %
God: 9 %
Bauer: 8 %
Buchanan: 7 %
Alexander: 6 %
Keyes: 5 %
Quayle: 4 %
Hatch: 2 %
Other: 2%
McCain: 1 %

Actually, for a campaign hampered by a severe lack of time and resources, it's not such a bad showing. And besides -- as is pointed out a little more often than necessary -- no straw poll winner (Bob Dole tied in 1995) has ever gone on to the White House. But, was this rationalizing?

"We didn't hit 'em hard enough on the compassion thing," Jack Pulito suggests.

"Compassion? Who is more compassionate than God?" asks Penny Noone, sucking down her third Zima.

Lanny Yohalem comes over and tries to buoy their spirits. "Look, if Dole drops out, and we hang around, we're the only viable moderate running not associated with big money. And don't think Bush is out of the woods when it comes to the stuff in his closet."

"And no one will nominate Forbes," Oscar Westbrook adds.

"How's He feeling?" Pulito asks, knowing Yohalem's been up in the front of the plane with the candidate.

"He's upbeat. It's only the beginning. Rome wasn't built in a day. It took a week to create the universe. And He thinks Forbes'll wear thin."

"I know one thing," says Penny, "I'm glad He's on the same plane."

There's laughter all around. Now, where's that beverage cart?

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