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Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2000 /19 Shevat, 5760

Don Feder

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Time for Bauer and Keyes to exit stage right -- GARY BAUER is an old friend. First as a Ronald Reagan's domestic policy adviser, later as head of the Family Research Council, he has made extraordinary contributions to the pro-family movement.

What can one say of Alan Keyes? He is our Demosthenes, our Churchill -- conservatism's peerless orator.

But for both, it is now time to exit -- stage right. Only vanity keeps them in the race. If they stay, their contribution will be to deliver the nomination to George W. Bush.

Keyes scored a respectable 14 percent in Iowa. But his campaign is entirely personality-driven. He can activate the true believers who will brave Iowa's sub-Siberian climate to cast their ballots. All Alan lacks is funding, a strategy and an organization -- in short, a campaign.

Gary gave Iowa his best shot. He spent over 50 days in the state, more than any candidate except Forbes. For his trouble, he came in fourth, four points ahead of Sen. John McCain, who didn't even campaign there.

But add Keyes' Iowa vote (14 percent) and Bauer's (9 percent) to Forbes' 30 percent and you have a conservative majority.

Of course, Iowa caucus totals don't translate directly into New Hampshire primary votes. Still, all the also-rans can do now is to drain votes from the only viable conservative alternative -- Steve Forbes.

As well as his unexpectedly strong second-place showing in Iowa (it was anticipated that the publisher would take a little over 20 percent of the vote), Forbes almost nudged out Bush in Alaska, whose Republicans had a preference poll the same day. Forbes pulled 1,566 votes (36.2 percent) to the governor's 1,571 votes (36.3 percent).

The key to Forbes' success is organization. He has chairmen in over 140 New Hampshire towns. Whatever happens next Monday, Forbes has solid grass-roots networks in all of the early primary states -- South Carolina, Michigan, Arizona and so on, as well as New York and California.

Even if lightning strikes twice and either Keyes or Bauer comes in second in the Granite state, they lack the ability to capitalize on their success anywhere else.

Pat Buchanan won New Hampshire in 1996. Unfortunately, that upset victory didn't give him the means to remain competitive. What would a second-place showing do for Keyes or Bauer?

If Gov. Bush is as canny as his old man, and the polls notwithstanding, he'll worry more about Forbes than McCain. And, despite his campaign's spin, Bush is coming out of Iowa looking a bit peaked.

While it's true that with 41 percent of the vote the governor did better than any other candidate in contested Iowa caucuses, Bush was the only moderate running in the state this year.

In 1996, Bob Dole, Lamar Alexander and Richard Lugar all appealed for the GOP squish vote in Iowa. This year, there was just Bush and a crowded field on the right. Still, even with the state's entire GOP establishment united behind him, the governor lost six out of every 10 votes.

The moment of truth is at hand. Bauer and Keyes must ask themselves if they want Bush, the very model of a moderate Republican, as the party's standard-bearer.

Do they want a nominee who looks like he's in pain every time the media forces him to discuss abortion, who won't commit to choosing a pro-life running mate, who only reluctantly endorsed the party's pro-life plank, who says ending abortion is the business of Congress, who refuses to express an opinion on whether David Souter -- who's become a poster boy for Roe vs. Wade since Papa Bush tapped him for the Supreme Court -- was a wise choice?

Or, would they prefer a GOP nominee who's rock solid on abortion, who says he'll only appoint judges who share his commitment to the sanctity of human life, pick a pro-life running mate, campaign proudly on the party's pro-life platform and make a ban on partial-birth abortions a legislative priority?

This difference between Forbes and Bush on abortion is reflected in every other issue conservatives care about.

While it's fun to run, to be hailed by crowds of supporters and take part in nationally televised debates, the Keyes and Bauer campaigns soon will be a footnote in the Almanac of American Politics. If they don't pull out now, that footnote could read, "Killed the chances of nominating an authentic conservative in 2000."

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate