Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Circus before the Caucus Now Playing in Iowa

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Circus before the Caucus Now Playing in Iowa

Article excerpt

The political spotlight - and the nomadic tribe of media and campaign insiders who follow it - shifted this weekend to Iowa for "Caucus Kickoff '96," a cavalcade of Republican presidential candidates and a straw poll of the 8,000 people expected at the event at the Hilton Coliseum here.

The words "Iowa straw poll" have been magic in presidential politics ever since Jimmy Carter used one to vault from obscurity 20 years ago.

The event is considered a must-attend spectacle and the first move in an expectations game that will be played out Feb. 12, when Republicans in the state will gather for the vaunted "first-in-the-nation" caucus.

"This straw poll has moved from being a mega-event to being a hyper-mega-event," said Bill Kenyon, campaign manager for millionaire businessman Maurice Taylor, a long-shot presidential candidate.

Iowa GOP Chairman Brian Kennedy said,

"This is a pretty good indicator of the strength of the candidates." Kennedy recalled that the stunning results of the 1988 Iowa Republican caucus were foreshadowed by a straw poll the previous August.

In that straw poll, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and television evangelist Pat Robertson finished on top, while then-Vice President George Bush showed up a distant third. Five months later, Dole won the caucus and Robertson finished ahead of Bush, serving notice that religious conservatives had become major players in the GOP.

Bush went on to win the New Hampshire primary a week later, won the Republican nomination and the presidency. Nevertheless, the lore of the straw poll and its draw remain strong.

Some of the candidates question the value of a loosely restricted process that allows participants to pour in from across Iowa's borders. They have labeled it as an undisguised ploy to fill the Iowa GOP's coffers with as much as $200,000 and to promote the state's status as home of the first-in-the-nation caucus. …

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