(Indianola, Iowa) The Tuesday luncheon special at the Crouse Cafe is the meatloaf dinner. It’s $4.95.
“You can’t get a salad for $4.95 in Washington,” an incredulous Gary Bauer remarked to the reporters gathering to interview him in the back of the small cafe, near the tables laid out with white place mats, a glass of ice water and silverware wrapped in napkins.
“I got the license plate of that truck that ran over you,” Bauer shouts to a woman trying to sit at a nearby table.
“Matt just ran over that lady back there,” Bauer said to an aide, smiling and joking. “You’re supposed to be nice to these guys.”
Bauer, a candidate for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, is traveling Iowa by bus and car this week, campaigning in coffee shops, churches and other venues to build support for the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll, to be held August 14. It will be an early test in the campaign and may weed out candidates who fail to win, place or show.
“You’ve got 11 days between now and the Straw Poll,” a television reporter tells Bauer in the opening question of the news conference. “What are you doing between now and then to drum up support?”
“Um, eating meatloaf all over Iowa, I guess,” Bauer replies. “I’m just going to as many places as I can around the state, trying to raise issues. I think, really, from my standpoint, the biggest frustration of the campaign so far has been that it’s been one article after another, one news report after another, about how much money one candidate has raised and how much money at Ames, in these weeks leading up to Ames, we have a chance to make this an another candidate has inherited, and I think election about the American people.”
As Bauer prepared to sit down for lunch, Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes was finishing lunch in his van as he arrived just a few blocks away at Indianola’s Public Library for a meeting with two dozen supporters.
“I think we have been finding a lot of good, enthusiastic response among folks around the state to my basic message that the issues of moral priority, the ones that affect the moral character and address the moral decline of the country ought to be our top priority,” Keyes told reporters standing under a shade tree outside the library.
In 1996, Keyes attracted about 800 supporters to the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll. This year, he predicts he’ll attract more.
“The first rally as I recall that we had in Des Moines or one of these places had 800 people turn out, and we’ve had 45 of the rallies since then, so I think we’ve seen a lot more people than that,” Keyes said, laughing.
Keyes has scheduled 33 town meetings in Iowa in the two weeks prior to the Straw Poll.
“The people who turn out for the work that I’m doing are people who really care. They’re in it for nothing except that they care about this country. They expect nothing. It’s no kind of interest issue where they’re going to get something for their pocketbooks or anything. They’re just people who grieve because this country seems to be headed
down the wrong road in terms of its moral values,” Keyes said.
Keyes, an ardent advocate for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, is widely considered the best orator in the field of candidates.
But oratory skills won’t carry the day on August 14, according to another contestant in the race, Elizabeth Dole. Dole on Tuesday said the speeches the candidates will “not make a lot of difference in terms of the votes. Most of the people are going to arrive with their minds made up.”
Dole arrived mid-day Tuesday in a busy cafeteria in Des Moines’ second-tallest building to shake hands and speak to the noontime crowd. She told reporters the media has hyped the importance of next week’s Straw Poll.
“We’re going to do well, but it’s not a ‘do or die’ for me,” Dole said.
Other candidates in the race, Lamar Alexander and Steve Forbes, have unleashed television ads in advance of the Straw Poll. Dole has no plans to introduce herself to Iowans through 30-second ads this early in the campaign.
“We’re just working, meeting with people, going to town halls one after another…listening to people, their concerns, so I can be responsive and just having an opportunity really to relate one-on-one which I think people in Iowa expect and deserve and ads don’t do that. You’ve got to do the retail politicking, too, or the caucuses won’t be the same after this,” Dole said.
A half-dozen Republican candidates were on the Iowa campaign trail on Tuesday including Forbes, Pat Buchanan and Orrin Hatch. On Wednesday, Bush is expected to visit Iowa as well.