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Jewish World Review Jan. 20, 2000 /13 Shevat, 5760

Roger Simon

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Bradley's position on breast-feeding and other welcomes in Iowa -- DES MOINES, Iowa -- In the Crause Cafe in Indianola, Bill Bradley finishes his stump speech, which is rich in issues such as farm policy, health care, education, gun control and the environment. And he ends with a passionate plea: "Make a few phone calls for me, drag a few people with you on election night, and when the votes are counted, we'll surprise a few people not only in Iowa, but the rest of the country!"

So what happens when he finishes and takes the first question? A woman stands up and asks him his position on breast-feeding.

Bradley does not blink an eye. He is in favor of it, he says, but "I don't think you can pass a law."

Welcome to Iowa, a friendly, highly educated -- 84 percent of high school graduates go on to college compared to a national average of 68 percent -- charmingly quirky state, where a presidential candidate can get asked about cracked udders and bag balm one day and national defense and health care the next.

It is a state where at more than 2,100 precinct caucuses next Monday the Democrats will dispense with the secret ballot and where, after about two hours of sometimes heated discussion, it will get down to somebody shouting: "OK, everybody for Bradley stand under the moosehead! Everybody for Gore stand by the pop machine!"

The Republicans vote, too, but with John McCain taking a pass on the state in order to concentrate on New Hampshire, the Democrats are where the action is.

Iowa jealously guards its position as the first state in the nation to vote on presidential contenders -- it is in a Pact of Steel with New Hampshire, whose primary always follows eight days later -- and Iowa has real, though negative, clout: It often eliminates candidates that people in the rest of the country would like to vote for, but never get a chance to.

Which is why Al Gore is making his 35th trip to Iowa (Bradley has made 31) and this time has made up his personality deficit by bringing one along with him in the form of Ted Kennedy.

Nobody does a better Ted Kennedy imitation than Ted Kennedy, and at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Kennedy does a conscious parody of his own speaking style, which has the crowd clapping and roaring. "Are you glad to see Old Kennedy back in Iowa again?" he bellows. "I want to tell you, you ought to be glad to see me! I came out to Iowa in 1959 ... and you supported President Kennedy! I came out here in 1968, and you gave your help and your support for Robert Kennedy! Then I came back out here in 1980!" He pauses. He shrugs. "And I won't go beyond 1980."

The crowd hoots with laughter. That was the year Kennedy got 31 percent to President Carter's 59 percent, which was not exactly the lift-off Kennedy was looking for. "If you will support Al Gore for president," Kennedy now trumpets, "all is forgiven, all is forgiven! The 24th of January, that is the date! Iowa is the state! Al Gore is our can-DUH-date! Are you going to those caucuses?"

The crowd cheers wildly but, truth be told, most Iowans aren't going anywhere near the caucus sites. Out of the 1.8 million registered voters in Iowa, only about 200,000 are expected to venture out next Monday night to cast a ballot.

Most find it a long, boring process and even good weather doesn't help turnout much.

"I guarantee you caucus night will be nice and warm," Bradley tells voters. "Unless it's not in my interests, in which case it will be snowing."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate