DES MOINES — Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt won the Iowa Democratic presidential caucus Monday, but Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis finished close behind, leaving the Democratic race still muddled heading into the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday.
With 70% of precincts reporting in a record turnout, Gephardt had 28% of the vote, followed by Simon with 24% and Dukakis with 21%.
The other four candidates trailed far behind, with the Rev. Jesse Jackson finishing a surprising fourth by polling 11% of the votes, even though it was estimated that blacks made up only 2% of those attending the caucuses.
Hart Virtually Eliminated
The outcome virtually eliminated former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart as serious contenders, although both declared that they would remain in the race.
Babbitt, who had campaigned extensively in Iowa since 1986, finished fifth, with 9%. And Hart, who had re-entered the race in December after withdrawing last April in the wake of reports of his involvement with a Miami model, drew only 1%. Six percent were uncommitted.
Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., who abandoned the Iowa race after labeling it "an arcane procedure that produces crazy results," finished last but remains a contender based on his strategy of concentrating his efforts on the March 8 Super Tuesday schedule of 20 primaries and caucuses, mostly in the South.
However, Gephardt's victory, in addition to giving his own campaign a shot in the arm heading into New Hampshire, probably means trouble for Gore and his Super Tuesday strategy because the Missouri congressman and Gore appeal to many of the same conservative voters in the South.
Gephardt's victory was shadowed in part by the process of reporting results, in which a consortium of news organizations was able to get numbers from only about 70% of the Iowa Democratic precincts. However, Democratic Party projections of Gephardt's ultimate delegate strength underlined his apparent victory in the raw vote.
Blames Foreign Competitors
Gephardt strategists credited their victory to Gephardt's increasingly strong appeal to farmers, union workers and the elderly, in which he stressed that their problems were a creation of economic competitors abroad and an insensitive government in Washington.
William Carrick, Gephardt's campaign manager, said his candidate "gutted out the tough times," coming from behind on the strength of a series of television ads that many analysts credited with crystallizing Gephardt's populist themes.
Gephardt must now move on to New Hampshire, where his message so far has been less well received. Prior to the Iowa vote, he ranked well down in the polls there. For one thing, he has advocated an oil import fee to help reduce the budget deficit and encourage greater energy independence, but the fee is not popular in import-dependent New England.
Gephardt's victory was diminished not only by Simon's close second-place finish but by the fact that Dukakis, a heavy favorite in New Hampshire and the leading fund-raiser among the Democrats, finished such a close third.
Nevertheless, a victory such as Gephardt's has transformed Democratic candidates into strong contenders and eventual nominees in the past. And the surge of media attention Gephardt already is receiving in the wake of his victory here could catapult him into a strong showing in New Hampshire.
It's Only Just Begun'
"We've won the first battle, but the struggle does not end here," Gephardt said. "It's only just begun."
When introduced at a downtown hotel to the theme from "Rocky," the five-term congressman said: "I ask for your help not just to win an election. I ask for your help to change America and give it back its soul."
The stakes were exceptionally high in the Iowa caucuses for both Gephardt and Simon, and a poor showing here for either would have been viewed as a serious, if not fatal, blow to their campaigns.
Gephardt, who considered Iowa so crucial he had pulled practically all of his campaign staff members out of other states and concentrated their efforts in Iowa for the final push, had hoped for a clear-cut victory that would have knocked Simon out of the race and left Gephardt as the only Midwesterner going into New Hampshire, where Dukakis has held overwhelming leads in public opinion polls.
Simon, who had said he would withdraw from the race if he failed to either win or finish a close second in Iowa, apparently felt he was now in a position to mount a strong challenge in New Hampshire, where polls have shown him running second to Dukakis, although far behind the governor.
"What is clear," said Simon in a Cable News Network interview, "is that, for someone who got 1% in the first Des Moines Register poll after I announced, we've moved into a strong second position and we're going into New Hampshire with two strong candidates."
To Keep Campaign Themes