Washington It was meaningful and meaningless; it buoyed a candidacy, advanced a candidacy, sank a candidacy and did not affect a candidacy. Such was the Iowa Republican Straw Poll on Aug. 14, and why it matters and does not matter for next year's Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
It is argued that it was important because more people turned out than ever before, and they did not turn out for money. True, their transportation, entry tickets and food were all paid by the candidates, but none of them left with more money than they had upon arrival in Ames, Iowa.
It is argued that it was all about money. How else is the second-place showing of publisher Steve Forbes to be explained? He does not rank second in national polling, yet by lavishing a portion of his own inherited fortune on the straw poll, he made a strong showing.
Then there was Elizabeth Dole, ex-secretary of Transportation, ex-head of the Red Cross, wife of the 1996 Republican nominee, ex-Sen. Bob Dole. She mobilized women, particularly young sorority women, with less money per vote than any other candidate and landed in third place. It was a big win for her -- a huge win. And when votes start counting more than money and Forbes begins to fade, it will be Dole in second position.
The candidates are fond of saying, "There are only three tickets out of Iowa," which appear to belong to G.W. Bush, the clear frontrunner and winner of the straw poll, Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Dole. But what about the gentleman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who skipped the straw poll and will probably skip the Iowa caucuses next year? His opposition to the ethanol subsidy, which is dear to Iowa farmers, combined with his less-than-flattering comments about the straw poll, do not place him in good stead there. The result? He probably will be campaigning his heart out at the next stop, New Hampshire, while the other three are devouring one another in Iowa.
Here is a possible scenario:
Winston Churchill quoted an old adage upon Hitler's 1941 invasion of the U.S.S.R. when he said of Joseph Stalin, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." It is what the Democrats -- and presumably McCain -- are saying about Steve Forbes. They remember how his negative campaigning crippled Bob Dole in the 1996 Iowa caucuses. They hope he will do the same to G. W. Bush in 2000.
But a battered Bush will still win in Iowa, Dole will hold her own, and Forbes, having once again violated the 11th commandment not to speak ill of a fellow Republican, will leave the state with a self-inflicted wound. Then, there will be McCain, fresh and cheerfully waiting for them in the snows of New Hampshire.
McCain, however, has a problem. With his call for campaign-finance reform, he is out of step with his party, and we have previously written that a Reform Party candidacy may be in his cards. It will all turn on how badly wounded Bush emerges from Iowa. And Dole's support, although solid, will top out in the 30 percent area because she and Bush have similar messages, making her the clear frontrunner for the vice-presidential nomination.
Therefore, the likely outcome of this scenario will be a New Hampshire tally looking like this:
Bush -- 50 percent
Dole -- 21 percent
Forbes -- 11 percent
McCain -- 11 percent
Others -- 7 percent
Forbes will be finished, and McCain will be lauded for showing so well after skipping Iowa. Still, McCain's only hope is for Forbes to deliver Bush a knockout blow in Iowa, and that is not likely to happen, Bush's suspected cocaine snorting notwithstanding.
-- Jack Anderson and Douglas Cohn are columnists for United Feature Syndicate.