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Iowa Polls Show Dole's Decline May Have Halted

Politics: Surveys find Forbes' support stalling as Senate majority leader fights back with new TV attack video. Caucus voting is Monday.

February 07, 1996|STEPHEN BRAUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DES MOINES — The volatile Iowa caucus race appeared to grow muddier Tuesday as new surveys showed signs that the well-financed rise of millionaire publisher Steve Forbes is stalling behind the shrunken lead of Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.

His two-month free fall in Iowa appearing to stop, the Senate majority leader went on a video offensive Tuesday. Dole blanketed the state's networks with a new television spot, featuring the back-country twang of popular Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa to question Forbes' experience and counter the "vicious ads he's running about Bob Dole."

Forbes struck back before large crowds in Des Moines and rural Storm Lake, taunting Dole for refusing to debate him directly on his flat tax proposal. But his heightened profile also continued to make Forbes a neon-lit target for religious conservatives suspicious of his credentials. An influential Iowa anti-abortion organization singled out Forbes for "trying to reposition himself" on the issue.

In a snapshot of likely participants in Monday night's presidential caucus voting, the University of Iowa's Heartland Poll found Dole's support ticking upward in recent days to 24% while Forbes appeared to fall off slightly to 14.6%. Though the poll gave the impression Dole is on more solid ground, a showing in the mid-20s range would be a disappointing drop-off from his 37% caucus victory in 1988.

But as he unveiled Dole's new attack video Tuesday, Darrell Kearney, Dole's Iowa campaign manager, insisted he has seen "clear indications" that the Kansas senator's slippage in Iowa has stopped and he is "heading upwards."

Bill Dal Col, Forbes' campaign manager, said the campaign's private surveys showed his candidate had a strong lock on second place in the caucuses.

"Internal polls show that we're solid right where we are. It's still a two-man race between us and Dole," Dal Col said.

A private poll by another Republican presidential hopeful found that Dole was leading Monday with a third of the likely Iowa vote and Forbes in second with a fifth of the electorate, and Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas and conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan were all in a dead heat for third place, each with about 10%.

The independent Heartland Poll found that Alexander, not Forbes, had gained the most momentum in recent weeks, rising from 1.6% among likely voters last December to 8.6% this week--tied with Gramm for third place and less than 5 points behind Forbes.

Speaking to more than 200 corn and soybean growers at a morning Des Moines campaign stop, the Tennessean contended that undecided voters were defecting to him from the front-runners and from Gramm's "sagging campaign."

Stumping in the same room half an hour earlier, Gramm concentrated more on Forbes' expensive negative television campaign and less on Alexander. Insisting the race was "wide open" in its final week, Gramm said Iowans would turn away from the magazine heir's well-financed television campaign and his hidden "image as a Rockefeller Republican."

Gramm also took some heat from opponents Dole and Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana for a one-vote loss Tuesday in the Senate on a farm bill vote. "He should have been here voting on a very important piece of legislation for Iowa," said Lugar, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Iowa Republican leaders have expressed worry in recent days about a larger-than-expected number of undecided voters in the final days of the caucus campaign. But how many nonaligned voters remained--and how many may sit out Monday's vote--has become a sharp matter of contention.

"We've had a month of carpet bombing and people are saying, 'Enough already,' " said Brian Kennedy, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party.

Heartland Poll director Arthur Miller said Tuesday that two months of relentlessly negative Forbes campaign ads and tough-toned reprisals by his foes appeared to be disenchanting voters. An increasing number, Miller said, were uncertain whom to vote for--at a time late in the campaign when choices traditionally narrow.

Contributing to this report were staff writers Ronald Brownstein, Henry Chu and Nancy Hill-Holtzman in Iowa.

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