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Des Moines Register: Top candidates back Iowa caucuses

By DAVID YEPSEN/Des Moines Register

November 19, 1999
Web posted at: 12:31 p.m. EST (1731 GMT)

DES MOINES, Iowa (Des Moines Register) -- Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the two front-runners in the 2000 presidential campaign, said Thursday they would protect Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus status if elected.

Two other leading candidates, Republican Steve Forbes and Democrat Bill Bradley, said they also support keeping Iowa as the leadoff state in the 2004 presidential campaign.

The national Democratic Party will start hearings Saturday on the presidential nominating process four years from now. Critics led by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., are lining up to attack the early role played by Iowa and New Hampshire. They say too much attention is paid to the two small states and the nomination process lasts too long.

Others say the compressed primary schedule resulting from states moving up their contests to gain more influence makes campaign fund-raising more important than ever.

But if Bush, Gore, Forbes or Bradley is in the White House, at least the winner's respective party will be holding the first caucuses in Iowa in 2004. Sitting presidents have considerable power to set the rules and nomination processes for their parties.

Asked if he would keep Iowa's caucuses first, Bush told reporters Thursday "yeah, they would."

He said it's hard to focus on the nomination process for 2004 when he's in the middle of the 2000 presidential campaign. However, the two national conventions in 2000 will fix rules for the 2004 calendar. The nomination process is now coming before rules committees in each major party.

"I think it's important to have candidates go to retail states, to have them show their ability to shake hands," Bush said during a stop in Des Moines. "I also think Iowa is incredibly important because it's the heartland of America. In this state, one needs to be conversant on agriculture, for example, and I personally believe that's important for America to have a president who understands the agricultural economy, not only for domestic purposes but for international reasons as well. I don't fault the process."

Gore, in a statement released by his campaign Thursday, said, "I strongly favor maintaining the tradition of Iowa being the first state to hold a caucus during the Democratic Party's nomination process.

"Iowans take their first-in-the-nation status very seriously and I believe that Iowa's relatively small geographical size and population allows the vast majority of caucus-goers to meet the candidates one-on-one, look them in the eye, ask important questions, and determine if this person has the character to be our next president. If elected president, I would do everything in my power as the top leader of the Democratic Party to ensure that in 2004, the Iowa Democratic Caucus remains first in the nation."

Eric Hauser, press secretary for Bradley, the other leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, said "Bill Bradley will continue to support Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus status."

"He respects the tradition, thinks it a great way to campaign, thinks it's a good way to get people to take the measure of their candidates," Hauser said of the former U.S. senator from New Jersey.

Publisher Forbes, a GOP contender who has moved into second place behind Bush in Iowa, said he would support Iowa and New Hampshire's leadoff roles, but wants changes in the way subsequent contests are held.

Bill Dal Col, the manager of Forbes campaign, said he would "lock in Iowa in the first week in January as the first caucus, then try to move New Hampshire up to the middle of January as the first primary."

After that, states would hold their contests two weeks apart with a large state alternating with a small state until June, under Forbes' plan. A lottery would be held each year to determine the order of states.

"It would be a nice, extended process" that would give more voters time to meet candidates and candidates time to campaign, he said.

Dal Col said Forbes dislikes regional primaries "because it would become a large media game" in which large purchases of television time would be required in big state media markets.

State Democratic leaders say the preferences of presidential candidates are important because members of the rules committees often follow the lead of the candidates they support.

This report provided byDes Moines Register.com.


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