Four days after the 1984 Iowa caucuses, I was standing by a phone bank at the University of Maryland and saw for the first time, up close and personal, "the bounce."
I was the pollster for Gary Hart, the Colorado senator who had just done "better than expected" in Iowa. Never mind that he gathered just 16 percent of the vote to Walter Mondale's 49 percent. He had beaten astronaut-hero Sen. John Glenn and was dubbed, by the conventional wisdom of the moment, the "alternative" to the front-runner. Thus Hart got the Iowa bounce.
Hart had a great campaign going in New Hampshire, led by two young women, one of whom, Jean Shaheen, is the current governor. But had been written off by the national press and the Democratic voters, who seemed to like him, but wanted a well-known winner who could beat Ronald Reagan. The second-place finish in Iowa gave Hart credibility he had lacked. Within days, that new popularity was converted into votes. He surged 20 points and beat Mondale in New Hampshire, 37 percent to 28 percent.
On their charter flights from Des Moines to snowy Manchester on Tuesday, political reporters and pundits were trying to figure out the impact of Iowa in 2000, and whether the bounce will work its magic again. But it's a stretch.
Two candidates, Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes, are in the running for a bounce, though neither enters New Hampshire with the popularity that Hart enjoyed. Forbes had a rating of 27 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable among Republican primary voters in last week's CBS News poll. And Keyes was 25 percent favorable to 26 percent unfavorable.
But Forbes does have the backing of the less-influential-than-it-once was-but-still-powerful Manchester Union Leader. The newspaper has never liked the Bush family. Forbes' strong showing in Iowa emboldened at least one key editor, who was overheard last night to say: "Friends, we've got ourselves a horse."
Keyes, who made quite a splash in the early debates, caught fire in the final days of Iowa and is expected to come on strong in Wednesday's debate in Manchester. He'll try to vie with Forbes for the very conservative and anti-abortion votes.
The real impact of Iowa could be seen on the tax issue. CBS exit polls showed that taxation was the second most important issue for Republican voters. And it was Forbes who did best on that issue. He beat Bush 54 percent to 37 percent among voters who said taxes were their main voting issue.
Forbes strategist John McLaughlin said last night that he thinks Bush may have made a strategic mistake in advocating a huge tax cut. Why? Because it gave John McCain the opportunity to become the advocate of a more moderate tax-cut plan, aimed at the middle class and constructed to protect Social Security. And, of course, there's still Flat Tax Forbes, the undisputed biggest tax-cutter in the pack. So Bush now finds himself squeezed in the tax debate. His pla may be too big for most voters, and too small for the true believers.
The last year's conventional wisdom was that McCain was making a big mistake in skipping Iowa. But by throwing all his resources into maverick-friendly New Hampshire, he may just be the guy who gets the bounce pass. The votes Forbes and Keyes got in Iowa could lead to better showings in New Hampshire. If those new votes come at the expense of Bush, McCain benefits, and gets the bounce.
Bill Bradley patterned his insurgent campaign after Gary Hart's. Hart wrote him a strategic memo last year that Bradley aides refer to as "brilliant." And Bradley doubled Hart's vote in Iowa. But he did it in a two-man race, and his early poll numbers were so good that now his 35 percent Iowa share is viewed as a pummeling. Rebound rather than bounce is the sports metaphor for Bradley, and he needs a big one this week if he's going to get back in the game.
One more troubling trend for Bradley: last week's CBS News poll showed that many Independents who like both Bradley and McCain were leaning toward McCain. Bradley's weak showing in Iowa could tilt them more in the direction of McCain.
Iowa bounced Republican Orrin Hatch right out of the game. After receiving just 1 percent of the vote, he dropped out of the race Tuesday. Hatch gave a speech last week to Iowa chiropractors saying that they would be the key to victory. Well, they may not have given him their votes, but maybe they'll help him with that lower backache that he'll always associate with the Iowa bounce.