DES MOINES — Bob Dole, it turned out, was right all along. He was, Iowans concluded, "one of us."
That was the motto of his campaign for President here, and Republicans at Monday's caucuses apparently agreed wholeheartedly, handing the senator from nearby Kansas a first place victory so impressive that even Dole's strategists were stunned.
"Euphoric," is the way Dole's Midwest director Floyd Brown described the mood in the senator's hotel suite late Monday.
Dole himself was more low-key about the results. "A rather clear-cut victory," he called it as he watched the results on television along with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Robin.
Though he strained to play down his satisfaction, it was clear that Dole had won more than just a political contest. It had became an old-fashioned grudge match between two men of decidedly different backgrounds--Dole, the Depression-era kid from Dust Bowl Kansas, and Bush, the pampered New England preppie. He understood Iowans and Iowans understood him, Dole had long argued.
By the time Dole faced a crowd of several hundred cheering, foot-stomping supporters late Monday, he had managed to stretch his droll smile into an ear-to-ear grin. Iowans, he said as he gave the thumbs-up sign, "decided with all these good Republican candidates there was one candidate who was closer to the people, and that candidate was Bob Dole."
The resentments between Dole and Bush broke into the open last week as they engaged in a bruising war of insults. But on Monday, with his own private polls showing him pulling away, the tension in Dole seemed to melt away into a carefree friskiness as he hit the Iowa campaign trail for the last day.
He stopped snarling at questions as he had taken to doing of late and quipped his way up to caucus time instead.
"It's going to be clear and cold tonight," he told a lunch meeting of the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce. "If you're undecided or if for some unbelievable reason you're not for me, don't go out. Take your Sudafed, turn on the television and go to bed early. Read about it in the morning paper."
The morning began on friendly turf--at a rally inside the tool shed of a farm owned by the parents of Dole's chief Iowa strategist. With stacked soybean seed bags as a backdrop, Dole told an enthusiastic crowd of farmers and friends that his rural roots were responsible for sharpening his sensitivity to the needs and wants of Americans.
"I do believe that coming from a small town you learn a lot, you learn a lot about real people," he said.
Only once did he allude to the squabble with Bush, which escalated last week after a Bush aide called Dole "mean-spirited." Dole told the farmers he was "tough enough" to deal at the bargaining table with Soviet leaders. "Not nasty, but tough," he said. "People get those two mixed up sometimes."
Driving back to Des Moines, Dole ordered his multi-car entourage to make a spur-of-the-moment stop at a shopping mall for a chocolate ice cream cone and some last minute "pump and grin"--political shorthand for handshaking.
In front of the "1 Potato 2" stand in the food park, he met a woman who said she was from Davenport, 170 miles to the east. "Hurry up and get back there in time for the caucuses," he admonished her with a twinkle in his eye.