The Magazine


Life Among the Also-Rans

Aug 16, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 45 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Chalk it up to a typographical error, but the Keyes people seem almost honest enough to say something like this on purpose. Inside Keyes HQ in Des Moines one afternoon in late July, Ron Granzow, the campaign's Iowa chairman, is sitting at what may be the most cluttered desk in the state. Surrounded by piles of paper, a Bible, a toothbrush, containers of food, and hundreds of other objects, Granzow cheerfully explains the Keyes strategy for the Ames straw poll. The other candidates, says Granzow, a Korean War vet and former ad salesman, are buying the $ 25 tickets to the poll and giving them to supporters. Not Keyes. "We're asking people to buy their own tickets. We're asking people to sacrifice." Somewhere else in the office a baby begins to cry. Granzow takes off his glasses, which are held together with a paper clip. "Frankly," he says, smiling in a slightly embarrassed kind of way, "we don't have the money to do anything else. We couldn't give tickets away if we wanted to."

Back at the American College of Hair Styling, Jim Tobin is talking about what it's like to work for a very different kind of campaign, the kind that can afford to do just about anything it wants. Tobin is the national political director of Forbes 2000. A soft-spoken Mainer, Tobin doesn't seem like the bragging type, but there is nothing modest about his description of how Forbes has been wooing potential straw poll voters. Everyone who comes to see Forbes speak at a stop along his multi-week, 77-county bus tour through Iowa, Tobin says, gets free food. Everyone who convinces five other people to come gets a gold lapel pin and a T-shirt. And everyone who happens to be in the area when Forbes arrives gets a complimentary photograph taken with the candidate, developed and returned within an hour. "He can do 100 photos in 11 minutes," Tobin says. A grin every 6.6 seconds.

The Forbes campaign in Iowa is, like its candidate, disciplined, relentless, and rich. It is also, all of a sudden, on the defensive. Late last month, the head of the state chapter of the Christian Coalition, Bobbie Gobel, came forward to claim that a Forbes operative had approached her about buying votes in the Iowa straw poll. In February, Gobel says, a Forbes organizer named Jerry Keen called her office at Metro Temp, a temporary employment agency she owns in Des Moines, and offered to hire 500 temporary workers on the day of the straw poll. Keen, Gobel says, wanted to bus the workers to Ames with the understanding they would vote for Forbes. And, true to his candidate's flinty instincts, he didn't want to spend a dollar more than necessary. "He said they only wanted to pay for two hours," Gobel says. "They didn't want to pay for the two hour bus ride. But I said, 'We can't find 500 people to work two hours. The minimum job is four hours.'" Gobel says she thought about Keen's offer, discussed it at a Christian Coalition staff meeting (where it was entered into the minutes), and decided to decline.

Gobel's claim stayed on the front page of the Des Moines Register for almost a week. The Forbes campaign immediately and repeatedly denounced her as a liar. "The incident never happened," says Bill Dal Col, Forbes's campaign manager. "She's embarrassing herself." Off the record, other members of Forbes's staff describe Gobel as a nut case, a victim of multiple personality disorder. Within days, under pressure from the Forbes campaign, the national office of the Christian Coalition fired her.

Gobel claims she isn't angry with Steve Forbes, only saddened by his decision to take "the Clinton path." "When he calls me a liar," she says, "it doesn't hurt me. It hurts him, because he's lost and he's wandering out there in the wilderness. He needs to find Jesus. I want Forbes and his campaign workers to know I have no hostile feelings for their sin. They have to repent."

The other campaigns watched Gobelgate with glee. "Our people in Iowa believe what she said about Forbes," says Dole spokesman Ari Fleischer. Bobbie Gobel may be very religious and very conservative, says Fleischer, but she's credible. "Whatever she says about abortion or dying on the cross, she's not a liar."

Bobbie Gobel or not, Forbes is still expected to run second, if only because he has spent so much money -- reportedly over $ 2 million -- to do it. On the day of the poll, Forbes supporters will be taken to Ames free of charge in air-conditioned buses, given free tickets to vote, fed free dinner, taken on a free balloon ride, and entertained by Ronnie Milsap and Debbie Boone at a free concert. Their children will get free face painting.