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Iowa Candidates' Coffers Swell As Presidential Hopefuls Crowd In On The Way To 2000

By Erika Niedowski, CQ Staff Writer

Before he announced his campaign for Congress last fall, Larry McKibben was a little-known, first-term state senator from Iowa who grew corn and soybeans and once served as president of the Marshalltown Community school board.

Now, in the eighth month of his bid for the seat of 3rd District Democratic Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, the Republican is being heralded by a swarm of presidential hopefuls who are fast making him one of the most promoted GOP candidates in the country.

House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, kicked off McKibben's campaign in Iowa in September. Missouri Republican Sen. John Ashcroft and former Tennessee Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander held meet-and-greet sessions for McKibben in November. Publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr. and 1996 vice presidential Republican nominee Jack Kemp each hosted fundraisers on his behalf in March.

Conveniently for McKibben, Iowa is much more than a battleground for 1998; it is a requisite stop in the campaign for 2000. Would-be presidential contenders are pouring into the state earlier and with greater frequency than they did 10 years ago, the last time the White House occupant was not seeking re-election. All the visits have the predictable pretense of helping elect other state and federal candidates.

"[The presidential candidates] want to meet Iowans and get a feel for the political landscape, and the best way is to get in front of a crowd of activist Republicans and be the guest star," said Keith Fortmann, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party.

McKibben has used the high-profile help to stock his treasury and try to solidify his front-runner status in the June 2 primary against lawyer Phil Ferren and 1996 Natural Law Party nominee Jay Marcus.

McKibben already has made Boswell the focus of his campaign. The freshman became the lone Democrat in Iowa's House delegation after winning with just 49 percent of the vote in 1996.

McKibben has been criticizing Boswell's opposition to last year's bill to grant President Clinton "fast track" trade authority. That issue was a top priority for groups such as the Iowa Farm Bureau, which made a surprising endorsement of Boswell two years ago, but is reconsidering this time around.

But as a former state legislator, Boswell has "presidential" contacts of his own.

He supported House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt during his failed bid for the White House in 1988, and reportedly has said the Missouri Democrat, who is all but openly running again, could beat Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 Iowa caucuses. Gephardt already has campaigned for Boswell several times during the 1997-98 election cycle.

In April, two more Democrats got in-state attention from Gephardt: state Sen. Bob Rush and lawyer Rob Tully, the likely challengers to Republican Reps. Jim Leach and Jim Nussle, respectively. The GOP incumbents are top targets of the state Democratic Party.

Gephardt's help has allowed both Rush and Tully to remain competitive financially with the lawmakers. Rush, who won 46 percent of the vote against Leach in 1996, had raised $182,000 by the end of March, about $10,000 less than Leach, who chairs the Banking and Financial Services Committee.

Leach does not take political action committee checks, out-of-state money or contributions of more than $500. Two years ago, he was involved in a close campaign in which he was outspent and criticized for being too conservative. Since then, Leach has tried to moderate his image, starting with his vote against Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., for Speaker at the start of the 105th Congress.

Tully, who also has campaigned with another possible White House contender, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, had brought in $211,700 by the end of March, compared with Nussle's $267,700.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Mike Peterson is sensitive about the subject of early presidential politicking in his state. He insists that appearances by Gephardt, Wellstone and Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who this month hosted a fundraiser for former state Rep. David Osterberg, are in the name of electing candidates in 1998. Osterberg is the long-shot challenger to GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley.

And that is certainly part of it. But, said Peterson, "The path to 2000 goes through 1998."

Early Support for Lightfoot

In the race to replace retiring GOP Gov. Terry E. Branstad, the leading Republican contender, former 3rd District Rep. Jim Ross Lightfoot (1985-97), has been happy to exploit that reality.

In his primary against Secretary of State Paul Pate and businessman David Oman, which he is expected to win handily, Lightfoot has welcomed Kemp, Forbes and 1996 candidate Alan Keyes, who recently attended a "Families for Lightfoot" rally.

When it was reported in October that Forbes planned to do an event for Lightfoot on Nov. 14, Kemp's aides promptly pointed out that Kemp had already scheduled a fundraiser for him three weeks earlier.

On the Democratic side, former state Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick and state Sen. Tom Vilsack are still locked in a two-way battle for the nomination, with most voters seemingly undecided two weeks out.

The day after the primary, though, the victor can look forward to one thing: With Democratic White House hopefuls, he will fast become as popular as McKibben has to the Republicans.

After all, explained Karen Slifka, McKibben's campaign manager, "This is Iowa."

© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Congressional Quarterly This Week

Monday, May 18, 1998

Alabama, Mississippi Democrats Hope To Stem Rising GOP Tide
Nutrition Program's Tempest In A Cereal Bowl
Iowa Candidates' Coffers Swell As Presidential Hopefuls Crowd In On The Way To 2000
Maelstrom Of Opposition Hurts 'Heritage Rivers' Plan
Teachers' Union Learns Harsh Lesson On Mixing Dues With Politics


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