Manchester, NH (CNSNews.com) - With the Iowa Straw Poll slated for Saturday, local supporters of several Republican presidential hopefuls insist the weekend event, which is expected to attract as many as 12,000 participants, is little more than a "buy the vote" effort, which will have minimal impact on what their candidates do in this first-in-the nation primary state come next week.
While some campaigns reluctantly admit Iowa is a test of organizational strength, most contend it is little more than a money raising event for the state's Republican Party and an opportunity for Texas Governor George Bush and publisher Steve Forbes to spend some of their enormous war chests.
Not a single staffer for any of the candidates would acknowledge the possibility his or her boss would drop out of the Republican marathon, should the Iowa results be disappointing.
Shelly Uscinski, New Hampshire campaign manager for Patrick J. Buchanan, said the money being spent by Bush and Forbes is little more than an effort to buy votes and has little if anything to do with what is important to New Hampshire voters.
Amidst growing speculation Buchanan will bolt the Republican Party and join the Reform Party, should he not do well in Iowa, Uscinski insisted she doubts that will happen. "I talk directly with him. He tells me he's out to win the Republican Straw Poll. I don't have any concerns about the Reform Party issue."
However, if Buchanan decides to follow Sen. Bob Smith (I-NH) out of the GOP, in part as the result of a poor showing in this Saturday's Iowa event, Uscinski said "It wouldn't bother me in the least if he went to the Reform Party. He's the only candidate talking about the issues that matter to me. For me and a lot of other Buchanan supporters in this state and elsewhere, it's not party loyalty that's the issue. It's loyalty to certain issues and principles that others and I care about. We are Buchananites. That's how we identify ourselves. The issues are what are important and those won't change should he change parties."
Rob Thompson, New Hampshire state director for Alan Keyes, said he expects a four-person race after Labor Day, involving Bush, Forbes, Buchanan and his man. "Iowa will be looked at and Alan will be noticed. People see Bush as the candidate of the establishment and main line press. If Pat doesn't do well in Iowa, his numbers will drop and if he falls to fifth place or so, many of us think he will go the third party route. The one with real growth potential, especially among conservatives, is Alan Keyes. I hope people will have an open mind when it comes to Iowa. I think we can finish in the top five, maybe even number three. That will be a boost in New Hampshire."
Dismissing the amounts of money available to Bush and Forbes, Thompson said wryly, "If money mattered most, we'd be looking at the re-election of President Forbes."
Gary Bauer hopes his New Hampshire effort will received a boost from Richard Lessner, the former editorial page editor of the Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire's largest and only statewide newspaper. Lessner's job will be to assist Bauer in developing a national strategy, but more importantly to pull together grassroots support in this first-in-the-nation primary state.
Republican State Chairman Steve Duprey said the decision to enlist Lessner was a good one, given his credibility with conservatives, established after a four-year stint with the Union Leader. According to Duprey, Lessner could lead conservatives to give Bauer " a second look."
It's a view Lessner echoes. In a recent interview with CNSNews.com, Lessner said, "I hope I can be of help in New Hampshire. I'd like to think I've built up some good will among conservatives. I hope my coming on-board will be a signal to conservatives that Gary Bauer can do it... I'd like to see the race come down to Gov. Bush and a consensus conservative and I believe Gary Bauer will be that candidate."
Local staffers for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are already downplaying the importance of Iowa, when it comes to New Hampshire. McCain is not a participant in the Midwest event. "We're not concerned with Gov. Bush or Iowa. We're running our own campaign, without regard to what any of the others are doing. Sen. McCain has spent a lot of time in New Hampshire and he'll continue to do that and we're pleased we're seeing some results," said Michael Dennehy, McCain's New England political director.
Dennehy characterized the Iowa Straw Poll as "the buy the vote stage," of the presidential primary cycle and added, "As people in New Hampshire see McCain, Dole, Bush and the others side by side, in upcoming debates, they'll see what a difference there is between these people and that will benefit Senator McCain."
"The Iowa Poll won't have any effect on what's going on in New Hampshire," said Gordon McDonald, the New Hampshire state director for former Vice President Dan Quayle. "I don't see the Iowa poll as having any kind of consequence. It's really nothing more than a fund raising tool for the Iowa State Republican Party. Dan Quayle will be here Sunday and he will campaign hard."
Ari Fleischer, communications director for the Dole Exploratory Committee, insisted a poor showing there will not force his boss out of the race. "She's raised more money than everyone, except for Bush, during the second quarter. If she has to drop out, the others will have to do the same."
As for New Hampshire, Fleischer insisted. "There won't be any changes."