DES MOINES, Iowa -- A beaming Patrick J. Buchanan declared last night that his close second-place finish behind Sen. Bob Dole in Iowa's Republican presidential precinct caucuses means "there is only one conservative left who can win" in November.
Mr. Buchanan's surprising showing, coupled with the fourth-place showing of Steve Forbes, made Mr. Buchanan a winner along with Mr. Dole. It enabled the former news commentator to cast himself as the standard-bearer for the party's most conservative voters, and the early alternative to Mr. Dole.
In exceeding earlier expectations for his candidacy, Mr. Buchanan called successfully on anti-abortion forces to unite behind him, and he thanked them profusely last night. According to a CNN poll of caucus-goers, 41 percent identified themselves as religious conservatives.
Mr. Buchanan also appeared to strike a responsive note among Iowa's farmers and blue-collar workers with sharp criticism of U.S. trade policies that he said would severely hurt them. He pledged to "make America the enterprise zone of the world" by ending these policies and bringing home U.S. industries that had moved abroad under them.
Alexander also excels
Former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, by also exceeding expectations with a third-place finish, was able to declare himself a winner too, and press on to next Tuesday's first 1996 presidential primary, in New Hampshire, as a more moderate alternative.
The collapse of Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who finished fifth, was initiated last week by Mr. Buchanan's victory over him in the Louisiana caucuses, where only Mr. Gramm, Mr. Buchanan and Alan L. Keyes competed. Mr. Buchanan's victory in Louisiana led many members of the anti-abortion movement in Iowa to switch to the former Nixon and Reagan White House aide.
At the same time, Mr. Buchanan successfully brushed aside other candidates' charges that the protectionist trade policy he favors would be disastrous for a major grain-exporting state like Iowa.
Coming out of Louisiana, Mr. Buchanan decided to concentrate in Iowa on the trade issue because it enabled him to draw a clear distinction between himself and the other leading candidates. He hammered particularly at the Senate votes by Mr. Dole and Mr. Gramm for the NAFTA and GATT trade agreements, charging that both pacts rewarded countries that practiced unfair trade policies against the United States.
Mr. Buchanan said he was the only candidate to focus on the apprehension of middle-class voters over stagnant wages and job losses caused when U.S. companies moved abroad to take advantage of cheap foreign labor. He called himself "the architect of economic nationalism," declaring that "the issue of economic insecurity is resonating in America, and that's why I think we're rolling."
Perot backers sought
In this regard, Mr. Buchanan said, he is best-positioned to win the support of backers of Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who also opposes NAFTA and other U.S. trade policies.
Noting that Mr. Perot is busy qualifying his new Reform Party for the 1996 presidential ballot, Mr. Buchanan said: "If I get the Republican Party nomination, I'm going to go down the street and ask for their nomination. No other Republican can get that vote. I think I can beat Bill Clinton for one simple reason: I can get the Perot voters."
The CNN caucus poll found, however, that only 7 percent of those surveyed thought Mr. Buchanan could defeat the Democratic president, compared with 48 percent who said that Mr. Alexander could and 32 percent who saw Mr. Dole as a winner in November.
Positive ad campaign
Mr. Buchanan declined to join in the barrage of negative television and radio advertising that was waged in Iowa by Mr. Forbes, Mr. Dole and Mr. Gramm, preferring to run positive ads about his own positions. Polls before last night's caucuses indicated a high degree of displeasure among Iowa voters toward the negative ads.
Mr. Alexander, who was sharply critical of Mr. Forbes' negative ads, appeared to benefit from running a positive campaign. So did Mr. Buchanan, who called the Forbes negative advertising campaign "the air arm of the Buchanan brigade."
Meanwhile, he said, "we just run our positive ads and just move on." He himself had largely escaped attack, he said, because his support among social conservatives on issues like abortion is so strong that his opponents apparently concluded that it could not be pried loose from him.
Angela "Bay" Buchanan, his sister and campaign manager, said after last night's finish that the fight for the Republican nomination had now come down to a three-man race involving Mr. Dole, Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Alexander, despite Mr. Forbes' vow to press on into New Hampshire.