Iowa Draws GOP Maybe-Wannabes Two Years Before Election
By Candy Crowley/CNN
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (June 15) -- It may be two years away, but that hasn't stopped would-be Republican candidates for president from spending all the time they can in Iowa.
This weekend, it was a "First in the Nation Gala" that drew Lamar Alexander and others to the Hawkeye State. The rhetoric was hot as the presidential wannabes tried to set themselves apart from the pack.
It was like a Star Trek convention, or the Cheers Bar where everybody knows your name. Steve Forbes was there. And Marilyn Quayle stood in for her husband Dan.
Or everybody is about to know your name. "John Ashcroft is my name," Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) told people as he scooped ice cream.
The only difference is, these were political trekkies; no Captain Kirk wrist watches here.
But there are Forbes hats and Lamar mugs, Lamar books and plaid coffee cups.
But alas, not even one Bob Smith bumper sticker. One woman told the New Hampshire senator, "I couldn't find anything that had your name on it."
"No, I haven't gotten to that point yet," Smith responded. "But we will. We will."
They haven't even figured out how to solve the year 2000 computer problem yet, and these people are out running for president.
"It's 2 1/2 years until the next presidential election. What are you doing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?" this reporter asked Alexander.
"The same thing you're doing, Candy," he responded.
Smith was asked if it was necessary to start the whole thing quite this early? "Well, you're here," Smith shot back.
He's got us there. The media was so prevalent at the weekend's GOP gathering in Cedar Rapids that even the kids are blase.
Mrs. Quayle told one little girl, "You're going to be on TV."
The girl's response? "Who cares. I've been on TV before."
Beyond getting your voice on the radio, your face on the tube and your name in print, this is about watering the grassroots in an area that is both notoriously fertile and democratically reassuring.
Forbes said, "You go wherever there are groups of activists willing to work. I have visited this state several times this year."
Smith's been in Iowa 34 days since January, signing up and softening up the voters. "We are letting people know who we are," he said. "And people ask the most amazing questions, you know, 'How long have you been married? How many kids do you have? What did your dad do?' And this kind of stuff."
And so it is that one weekend in June 1998, a group of presidential maybe-wannabes came to Iowa to talk, shake hands, listen and talk some more, saying pretty much the same thing to a group that wanted to hear it from everyone.
Just think: only 29 more months until the presidential election. Beam me up, Scotty.