GRUNDY CENTER, Iowa — It's a matter of experience.
For Bob Dole it is the experience of the Midwest. The deep-down remembrance of the smell of freshly tilled topsoil, a plain upbringing in an ordinary place, a place in the heartland to call home.
For George Bush it is the globe girdling experience of a half-dozen titled positions--jobs from here to China, literally. The experience that may, on the eve of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit, earn him a slice of credit for the upcoming missile reduction treaty.
The two front-running GOP candidates for President, Bush the vice president and Dole the senator from small-town Kansas, traveled Iowa end to end, top to bottom in the last few days. And no contrast was plainer than the experience of which they told in trying to connect with the savvy, all-important electorate here.
'Where I'm From'
"I know precisely where I'm from. I know precisely how I got where I am. I know precisely how to get back where I came from," Dole told audiences in northwest Iowa.
At one stop, 7-year-old Jonathan Ruf of May City asked Dole: "What's it going to be like if you're President?"
The senator paused and then built on his I've-been-in-your-shoes theme:
"I'll work hard. I'll tell you the truth. I'll remember where I'm from, and I'll remember there are a lot of people just barely making it in this country."
Where Dole drew on his native Midwesternism, Bush asked Midwesterners to view their interests globally.
"I don't think anybody running has more experience in foreign affairs," Bush told audiences. "I've been to 76 countries as your vice president. I know most of the world's leaders."
Bush Met Gorbachev
He recalled in March, 1985, being with the first Americans to meet new Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. "The moment I saw him I knew there was something different about him," Bush recalled.
The vice president freely credited his own role in trying to assure Europeans over the years that President Reagan was serious all along about arms control.
"I had a hand in working for parts of it," he said about the current treaty. "As President, I want to build on it."
Perhaps agriculture, the favorite issue of many Iowans, brings the contrasting approaches of the two candidates into crispest focus.
At a pancake breakfast with more than 1,000 farmers in Des Moines, Dole dished it out as plain as it comes: "I understand what's going on. He doesn't. . . . Agriculture is not his strong suit. I don't know what is. But it's not agriculture."
In Marshalltown, meanwhile, Bush argued that farmers need a President with an intercontinental grasp.
"Yes, some people who are running may know more about the technical aspects of the farm bill. But I don't think any of them know near as much about dealing abroad in terms of this expansionist kind of approach to agriculture."
Even their style in travel reflected the contrasts.
Dole is disdainful of Secret Service protection at taxpayer cost. He said he will try to go without government bodyguards until after the Iowa presidential caucuses on Feb. 8.
This contrasts with Bush's mighty traveling army of guards and police and helicopters and flashing lights and roadblocks.
"People don't like that kind of stuff in Iowa," said Dole's state campaign manager, Tom Synhorst. "They realize all of it costs money; they see right through it."
On the other hand, the rarefied whiff of White House power travels with the vice president. "You're the first vice president ever to come here and we've very proud of that. It's a big day for us," said Ollie Weigel, mayor of Ankeny. At another stop, Anita Seitsinger in Oskaloosa said the chance to introduce Bush to an audience "is the proudest moment of my life."
The Washington summit and impending missile reduction treaty may realign the chemistry in the Repubican presidential race. But for now, it seems Dole's homey message is striking the more responsive chord. Recent polls have showed him as much as 16 points ahead among likely voters here.
"The way this thing is set up, it's not unfavorable to someone from the Midwest," Dole remarked. He noted that more than half the states that cast votes before the March 8 Super Tuesday primaries are in the Midwest or West.
Bush has reacted by embracing the role of underdog as if he liked it. After all, it was as underdog in 1980 that Bush beat Reagan in Iowa and rose to prominence. "Pure, gut Iowa politics--that's why I'm standing here today as vice president," he told a group here in Grundy Center.
Another emerging Midwestern battleground is neighboring South Dakota, which holds its primary Feb. 23, following the more closely watched Iowa and New Hampshire contests.
Bush on Friday began his first television advertising of the national campaign in South Dakota. The theme of the 60-second commercials is biographical, the message is again experience.
"George Bush is probably the most qualified man in this century to be President," said the narrator.
Dole, meanwhile, spoke to the plain streak of the plains: "We do house calls, we do windows. We'll do whatever it takes."