Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Bush passes first test
in Iowa straw poll

Bullet The issue: Texas Gov. George W. Bush led the field of Republican presidential candidates in the Iowa straw poll.
Bullet Our view: The real tests for the GOP front-runner lie ahead.

The Iowa straw poll shouldn't be taken seriously as a gauge of strength, but with the presidential primaries months away it gets attention by default.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush and millionaire publisher Steve Forbes, the candidates with the biggest campaign war chests, thought it important enough to make a real effort and they emerged Saturday with the best showings. Forbes spent nearly $2 million and Bush about $750,000, which seems ridiculous but gives some idea of how much money is going to be spent on this election.

The straw poll was more like a carnival than a legitimate political test. Candidates vied with each other in offering free food and entertainment. What it all meant was anybody's guess, but the candidates who did best or reasonably well were happy.

While Bush has the poll numbers to go with his huge success in fund-raising, Forbes depends so much on his family fortune that his staying power in this race is questionable. What else does he have going for him?

Former two-time cabinet member and Red Cross director Elizabeth Dole was pleased with her third-place showing, which bolstered her credibility a tad as the only female candidate.

Conservative activist Gary Bauer claimed his fourth-place showing solidified him as the leader of social conservatives.

At the other end of the line, Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor who finished poorly in Saturday's poll, decided to withdraw from the race.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle, who also made a weak showing, got another blow yesterday with the desertion of campaign leaders in South Carolina, a critical GOP primary state. But Quayle insists he's still in the hunt although his efforts appear doomed.

Ultra-conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, who finished fifth, dodged questions about whether he would bolt the party to run as an independent or third-party candidate. Patience with Buchanan's extremism seems to have worn thin this time around.

Arizona Sen. John McCain was the only candidate to skip the straw poll, which may make sense in terms of conserving funds for more important tests ahead.

Bush has said little of substance about national issues thus far, but as the front-runner he will be pressed many times in the months ahead to spell out his positions. He didn't have to do that at the straw poll, where he walked away with 31 percent of the vote to Forbes' 21 percent.

The Iowa poll could have raised doubts about Bush's strength if he had done poorly, but winning does little to advance his candidacy. The real tests lie ahead.


Kremlin reshuffle,
revolt plague Russia

Bullet The issue: Russians are faced with another change of government and an outbreak of fighting in Dagestan.
Bullet Our view: These problems should not be allowed to distract attention from the need for economic reforms.

WITH a topsy-turvy government and a fresh ethnic uprising, Russia's main problem continues to be the economy. Russia has weathered President Boris Yeltsin's fickle Kremlin reshuffles in the past, and a rebellion in Dagestan is not likely to produce a crisis comparable to the bloody, two-year war in adjoining Chechnya.

Economic reforms must remain the top priority for the Russian government and the chief concern of the West.

The Russian parliament confirmed Yeltsin's appointment of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin as the country's new prime minister -- the fifth in 17 months -- but the lopsided vote was anything but a ringing endorsement.

Instead, most delegates were concerned about keeping their seats in the Duma while seeking re-election in December. A rejection of Putin would have led to a dissolution of the parliament, depriving the delegates of their offices, fax machines and other perks for their upcoming campaigns.

As for Dagestan, insurrectionists lack the depth of support that resulted in the humiliation of the Russian military and de facto independence of Chechnya. Local authorities in Dagestan and many ethnic groups oppose the militants, who don't even have the support of the Chechen government. Even Russia's sharpest critics of the Chechen war are supporting the military campaign against the rebels in Dagestan.

"This is radically different from what occurred in Chechnya," says leading Russian reformist Grigory Yavlinsky. "That was a war by separatists who had 95 percent of the population behind them. This is aggression by Islamic extremists against Russia."

The conflict in Dagestan should not be a major distraction from the need for economic reform. Little economic progress has been made since the ruble's meltdown a year ago. With parliamentary elections four months away and the selection of Yeltsin's successor set for next summer, the country's dismal economy is certain to be the main concern of the voters.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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