DES MOINES — An ebullient Pat Robertson, whose strong second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses confounded conventional wisdom, proclaimed himself "the conservative candidate" Monday night and said his performance would "mobilize and crystallize" support in New Hampshire and around the country.
"My campaign for the presidency has been given an enormous boost here in Iowa tonight . . . " Robertson said.
"It's going to be like I've got a rocket strapped to my back and I'm going to be taking off," a grinning Robertson told reporters while cheering supporters looked on from a balcony overhead.
Robertson declared his second-place finish "a victory not only for me, but a victory for all the American people--for those who want America to be number one in the world, who wanted to restore the greatness of America's moral strength, who believe in quality education, strengthening the family and restoring America's industry to greatness."
Robertson, the former television evangelist whose political prospects have been widely dismissed by party insiders and political analysts, said the second-place finish demonstrated once and for all that he was not a candidate of narrow special interests.
"I was looking for an opportunity to broaden my base and that's exactly what happened," Robertson said.
The strong showing for Robertson in Iowa comes after his overwhelming victory last week in caucuses in Hawaii, where he won 81% of the delegates, and in Michigan, where he is contesting an apparent victory by George Bush. Most analysts give Robertson almost no chance of victory in next week's New Hampshire primary, but Robertson said Monday night he would muster a coalition of conservatives and defeat all comers in Southern primaries on Super Tuesday, March 8.
"I think that when the South is over on March 9 I will be a clear winner and headed for the White House," Robertson said.
He credited his victory in Iowa in large part to the mass mailing last week to more than 100,000 Iowans of an audiotape recording of a Robertson stump speech. More than 130,000 tapes have been mailed to voters in New Hampshire, and Robertson said he expected those tapes to sway undecided voters there.
Into Tape Recorders
"I think after Iowa they're going to pull the cassettes out and put them in their tape recorders to hear what I have to say," Robertson said.
A crowd of more than 200 supporters roared their approval when Robertson emerged to thank them for their help, cheering: "We want Pat" and waving their Robertson hats in excitement.
The supporters, most of whom were middle-aged, had waited patiently for two hours while Robertson conducted press interviews and counseled with his advisers.
While they waited they nibbled chips and dip, raw vegetables and sipped soft drinks, enjoying a celebration that was notable for its absence of alcohol. "We celebrate different," said Sue Goettsch, a Robertson volunteer from Des Moines.