DULUTH, Minn. — Listen to the candidates speak and the Republican race for the presidency would seem to hinge on the grand themes of the day.
But watch the candidates and the grandiose sometimes turns prosaic. The race comes to resemble a parlor board game where the question is: where on the board to put your man.
Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas is behind in organization and in voter support for the upcoming March 8 Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, which will choose about one-third of the presidential nominating delegates.
So, in hopes of capturing attention down there and rebuilding momentum as a winner, Dole has come up here--and to neighboring South Dakota.
These two states vote today--via a caucus in Minnesota and a direct primary in South Dakota. Only a tiny 2% of the Republican nominating delegates will come from these two states.
But Dole, who lost New Hampshire to Vice President George Bush, is looking for more than delegates.
"We hope to recover some of the momentum we lost up there in New England," Dole told reporters Monday as he devoted a full day of campaigning to Minnesota.
"If I could win both South Dakota and Minnesota, that would be noted in the South and everywhere else."
Bush Pulls TV Ads
Bush has virtually ignored Minnesota and just recently decided to pull his television advertising in South Dakota, redirecting the resources to Super Tuesday states.
Political professionals in South Dakota say this has left Dole a wide-open path, and expectations are high for his victory there. In Minnesota, Dole says he believes he is in the thick of an organizational contest with former religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. Rep. Jack Kemp of New York has also worked Minnesota extensively.
If the balloting in the two states breaks Dole's way, the senator's campaign argues it can then make a stand against Bush's superior and entrenched strength in some of the Super Tuesday states.
"Between New Hampshire and Super Tuesday, we're going to do better overall than any of the other candidates," said David Keene, a top Dole adviser.
"That's going to help. How much? Who knows, we're still going to have to win each of them on the ground," he added.
After a few days of post-New Hampshire blues in the Dole camp, a shot of welcome news came Monday with the coveted endorsement of Sen. Strom Thurmond, the venerable patriarch of South Carolina politics.
"That should put to rest any of those rumors that we aren't going to target South Carolina," said a buoyed Dole, who is scheduled to travel there Wednesday.
Thurmond, whose announcement was a surprise to many Republicans, called Dole a "common sense conservative" and "head and shoulders above the rest of the candidates."
Thurmond, who said Dole was "the most electable of all of the candidates," conceded that Bush and Robertson were ahead in the state but added that after the voters have "heard (Dole's) record, I think they will reassess their position and he has a chance to win in South Carolina."
South Carolina has become one of the showcase battlegrounds of the 1988 GOP campaign. It votes on Saturday, March 5, and is known as the threshold to Super Tuesday. Both Bush and Robertson have placed it at the top of their priority lists, looking to display Southern dominance for the 17 other states with GOP votes on March 8.
Dole said Monday he has set goals of pulling in his own share of victories in the South.
"We'd like to win four or five of those states, and sort of have (the others) split up three ways with Robertson winning some and I assume Bush will win some," Dole said.
Dole Goads Bush
Closer to home, here in the nation's midsection, Dole for the third consecutive day goaded Bush for not spending this week campaigning outside of the South.