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Politics 88 : TV Ads Credited for Gephardt's Late Vote Surge

February 09, 1988|JAMES RISEN | Times Staff Writer

DES MOINES — On the strength of a savvy media blitz that stressed a populist Midwestern message on trade and agriculture, Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt surged to a narrow victory in Iowa after being all but written off just one month ago.

Many political observers believe that his series of television commercials that humanized his tough stance on trade played a crucial role in Gephardt's turnaround. The most memorable one complained of trade barriers that pushed the cost of a $10,000 Chrysler K-car to $48,000 in Korea. Under a Gephardt Administration, it said, the United States would force the Koreans to open up their markets, or else risk learning "how many Americans would pay $48,000 for one of their Hyundais."

In a victory speech late Monday night, Gephardt said his win in Iowa was just the first he will log in the long campaign season.

"We won the first battle, but the struggle does not end here," Gephardt told about 400 cheering supporters at the victory celebration. "It's only just begun.

"We're going to win!"

Claim Clear-Cut Victory

Although Gephardt's lead appeared slim, his aides insisted that he had won a clear-cut victory.

"A win is a win," said Steve Murphy, Gephardt's Iowa campaign coordinator. "Whoever wins in Iowa will be able to declare a clear victory. We're real pleased we think we will have a decisive victory."

Gephardt and his supporters also claimed that the victory in Iowa would give him momentum as the campaign now turns to New Hampshire, but cautioned that Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis is still the man to beat there.

"He (Dukakis) is clearly the front-runner, but I think I can come in second and do well," Gephardt said.

"I think while Dukakis is still ahead, he's got very soft support," added Rep. Tony Coehlo of Merced, the Democratic House whip. "I think you'll see Dick's numbers go up immediately in New Hampshire."

Has 'National Campaign'

"Mike Dukakis still has to be considered the front-runner there," cautioned Murphy. "But Dick Gephardt has a national campaign and a national message and we think it will do very well in New Hampshire and beyond." Murphy added that Gephardt will stress the same tough trade message in New Hampshire that he used successfully in Iowa.

Gephardt apparently benefited more than his rivals from a record turnout, in excess of 100,000, that brought new voters out to the caucuses for the first time. Gephardt's campaign had canvassed voters who did not attend the 1984 caucuses more heavily than did his main rivals, and thus had more to gain from a big turnout.

The ultimate Washington insider who brought 35 congressmen to Iowa to campaign on his behalf, Gephardt was nonetheless able to attract Iowa voters with a message of prairie populism. In a sense, his biggest accomplishment was finding a way to transform his key positions on trade and agriculture from abstractions into gut-wrenching vote-getters.

Meanwhile, Gephardt supporters said the victory not only will give Gephardt momentum going into New Hampshire, but also will bring about an immediate increase in their fund-raising ability. Gephardt's campaign was short of cash by the end of the Iowa campaign, but contributors started calling into the campaign office in Des Moines as the first results started rolling in Monday night, the campaign's top financial officer said.

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