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Retail Politics, Up Close and Personal

With Gore in Iowa and Bradley in New Hampshire

Feb 7, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 20 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Des Moines, Iowa

PERHAPS BECAUSE of some obscure government regulation, Al Gore's security guys aren't wearing coats. The temperature is hovering near zero in Des Moines, but the men in charge of securing the vice president's next campaign event have only thin polyester suits and mirrored sunglasses to protect them from the cold. Gore is supposed to arrive any minute and begin a short, very staged walk down a residential street, where he will knock on doors and meet voters. At the moment there are no actual voters in sight. Apart from the media horde, stamping its feet behind the rope line, the neighborhood is weirdly deserted, like a movie set.

Down a side street two members of Gore's security detail are taking a break from checking for bombs. One is on his haunches in the snow picking up a handful of discount brand cigarettes that have spilled out of his pocket. The cigarettes are wet and flecked with mud, but the guy's doing his best to get each one back into the pack. As his stiff hands fumble with the damp tobacco, a couple of warmly dressed, well-paid, smug-looking male reporters walk by. One of them has a ponytail and a couple of earrings. The other is wearing a state-of-the-art down parka with a fur-lined hood. The security guy whips around to see the reporters staring at him. He looks murderous.

There's a fair amount of crankiness at the Gore event. The wind has picked up, and Gore is more than an hour late. A cable news producer says she has heard that the vice president is parked in his idling limousine a mile away, watching a football game on television. It's probably not true -- inconsiderate as Gore may be, he's not lazy -- but most in the press gaggle seem happy to believe it.

The public, meanwhile, hasn't shown up either. Gore aides often brag about the campaign's grass-roots organizing, but whoever was in charge of today's event forgot to bus in the usual crowd of sign-waving supporters. A couple of animal rights protesters dressed in pig costumes pull up in a white convertible and make a brave attempt to get themselves on television. It doesn't work, and they leave. Then Gore arrives. Flanked by the coatless security men, he tramps up the front walk and knocks on the door of the first house on the street. A woman answers. Gore speaks to her for about 45 seconds before she closes the door and he heads to the next house. As it turns out, the woman and her husband are the local precinct captains for the Bush campaign.

Pretty embarrassing. The grand prize for bad Iowa advance work, though, almost certainly goes to Gary Bauer. The day before the caucuses, Bauer held an event at Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines. With cameras rolling, Bauer laid roses on the grave of "Baby Isaiah," a stillborn boy whose body was found dumped at a wastewater treatment plant several years ago. Bauer gave a speech about the sanctity of life, took questions from the press, then left. No one stayed behind to clean up.

By coincidence, a Bauer supporter named Steve Evans happened to be at Glendale that day to visit the grave of his grandson. Stampeding camera crews crushed the teddy bear Evans had left on the boy's headstone, before going on to commit numerous other acts of unintentional desecration. As the Des Moines Register put it the following day, "broken glass and cigarette butts littered the graves." The 68-year-old Evans promptly called reporters to say he was no longer planning to vote for Bauer. Then he contacted half a dozen other people whose family sites had been damaged, vowing to organize a kind of class action suit against the Bauer campaign. In all, it was not a successful event.

It's hard to imagine the Forbes campaign making a similar mistake. Forbes events are the best planned, best choreographed, and often best attended of the primary season. An Iowa voter could feed and clothe (in campaign T-shirts, anyway) a sizable family simply by following the Forbes bus around the state. Whether the family could stay awake is another question. Years of campaigning haven't done much for Forbes's speaking ability. He still drones and grins mechanically, incapable of the slightest ad lib. His hands have started to move a bit while he speaks, but the effect is more menacing than humanizing.