NASHUA, N.H. — A chastened Vice President George Bush said he was "disappointed but not down" after an embarrassing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, and he acknowledged that voters there had sent him a message.
"Work harder in New Hampshire," he said with a wincing grin.
While clearly anticipating a loss to Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, Bush and his aides seemed shocked at the convincing second-place finish by former television evangelist Pat Robertson that consigned Bush to a distant third in the Republican presidential race.
"Organization," Bush said, when asked what propelled Robertson to second place. "I think he out-hustled us."
At a hastily called press conference here, where he flew Monday night after a last day of campaigning in Iowa, Bush appeared both resigned and somewhat bewildered at the results.
"I'm sure I've made mistakes, but I can't think of any I want to place the blame on for not doing as well as I thought I was going to do," he said. "All it does is convince me to get the message out better, do a better job. And I've got to work harder--though I don't know how to do that."
The loss was doubly hard to swallow because it was Iowa that in 1980 gave an upstart Bush his first victory--gave him "Big Mo," Bush's slang for momentum--in an ultimately unsuccessful run at the presidency. His luck ended a short time later when Ronald Reagan trounced him in New Hampshire and subsequent states.
Monday night's caucuses left Bush--who has tied his political future to his experience and allegiance to Reagan--hoping that his campaign will now follow precisely in Reagan's tracks.
"We came out of Iowa with a victory (in 1980) and lost New Hampshire and lost the nation," Bush said.
Cites Michigan Victory
Bush, speaking before a mob of reporters and camera crews, also repeatedly referred to the Iowa contest as the "second" of the year, an effort to remind voters that he won most of the delegates at last month's Michigan caucuses.
"Round 2 is over and I congratulate both . . . Sen. Dole and Pat Robertson," he said. "Now we go to the next event."
Later, in an aside, he added: "Tell them I'm coming after them."
Throughout the day Monday, Bush aides were plainly steeling themselves for a loss, and the day's campaigning did nothing to instill optimism.
Although Bush received polite greetings in appearances in Des Moines, only about one-quarter of the several hundred Rotary Club members who heard him speak in Waterloo stayed to shake his hand.
And, in college appearances in Ames and Iowa City, Bush was booed by students who paraded in front of the cameras with anti-Bush, anti-Contra aid signs.
Gets Enthusiastic Welcome
Bush landed here Monday night to the cheers of more than 100 enthusiastic supporters, and he promptly labeled New Hampshire "friendly territory."
Indeed, Bush has held onto a strong lead over Dole in the polls for months in New Hampshire, a state more conservative than Iowa and one in which Bush supporters hope Dole's "one of us" message will not sell as well.
But on Monday night, all predictions for the future were jarred by the rumblings from Iowa. Bush himself, asked whether people simply did not like his message, whether renewed talk of the Iran-Contra affair had cost him votes or whether his campaign's controversial assault on Dole had backfired, offered an unnerved lament.
"I just don't know," he said.