The Magazine


Life Among the Also-Rans

Aug 16, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 45 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Des Moines, Iowa

Drive around Des Moines long enough and you begin to see the connection between a candidate's headquarters and the campaign he's running. The Quayle 2000 headquarters, for instance, is virtually invisible from the street and almost entirely deserted at one o'clock in the afternoon on a weekday. "Everyone's at lunch," says the lone staffer manning the phone. Elizabeth Dole's office, meanwhile, is spread out across the showroom floor of a defunct foreign car dealership. The front door is decorated with at least three No Smoking stickers. Somehow that makes sense. So does the Forbes for President office, which shares a building with the American College of Hair Styling. And the Lamar Alexander office, its window only partly filled with faded campaign signs, many held up with duct tape, that look suspiciously like leftovers from the 1996 race. And what to make of Gary Bauer's headquarters, which is located in a converted urologist's office? Or of the Keyes and Buchanan campaign HQs, both of which sit directly across the street from a porn shop?

One thing you won't see driving around Des Moines is George W. Bush's Iowa campaign office. That's because it's not in Des Moines, but in Clive, an upscale suburb west of town. From the office of any other Republican candidate, it takes a long time to get to where Bush is.

Not that the other candidates are spending much time figuring out how to get there. Bush is so far ahead in the polls that many of his opponents consider him, for now anyway, irrelevant. No one doubts Bush will win the August 14 straw poll in Ames. The question is, Who else will leave Ames with a plausible presidential campaign? There's room for three, maybe four other serious contenders. The rest will have to go home and find law firm sinecures. It's enough to make a second-string presidential candidate a little desperate.

You can see it in the campaign literature, which just about everybody but Bush has begun to produce in bales. Last week, Lamar Alexander sent out a press release boasting that his "traveling campaign got a boost in spirits when Joe Klein, political reporter for the New Yorker and author of Primary Colors, joined the tour for a couple of stops." The release didn't mention the story Klein returned to New York and wrote, which described Lamar as a pathetic loser who is "probably irrelevant" to the presidential race.

Gary Bauer, by contrast, has decided to leave nothing out of his campaign literature. In a pamphlet entitled "Testimony," Bauer tells the story of his poverty-stricken childhood -- the whole story. Bauer includes details of his father's alcoholism, his parents' marriage, even the demise of his uncle, an employee of an "organized crime syndicate" who was "machine-gunned to death" by mobsters. It makes for a compelling read, if not for a compelling reason to vote for Bauer.

If it's compelling reasons you're looking for, look no further than Alan Keyes. A headline on the latest Keyes pamphlet warns readers that "your support for Alan Keyes is critical to the destiny of America." Inside, in place of the usual heartwarming photos of the candidate with supporters, is an essay thousands of words long explaining why Americans have devolved from "a free and vigilant people" to "tax serfs." The typeface is tiny, and many of the ideas straddle the line between brilliance and eccentricity. But at least it's not slick. It's clear Keyes wrote every word himself.

Not so some of his other campaign material, which is obviously staff-produced. In June, Keyes won two minor Iowa county straw polls. The Keyes 2000 Des Moines office promptly released a statement heralding the triumph. "The Straw Poll victories," announced his campaign manager, "dispel any doubts that Alan Keyes is a viable candidate and that he has little chance to win the nomination."