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Reagan hopes to upstage Democrats in Iowa caucuses

By John DillinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 17, 1984



Des Moines

Election '84, Act I: The Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucuses. The Setting: After months of intensive campaigning by eight contenders, it is now the night of Feb. 20. Iowa voters have gone to 2,495 caucuses across the state. Finally, the spotlight can shine on the winner.

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First scene: The curtain draws back, and standing in center stage is - Ronald Reagan!

At least, that is how the stage-managers at Reagan-Bush '84, the President's reelection committee, hope the political drama will unfold here next week. Only a few hours before the voting begins, the President flies into Des Moines to bask in the first exciting moments of the 1984 election campaign.

The Democrats say they are furious. State Democratic Party chairman David Nagle fumes that in Iowa, it just isn't considered polite to hog the spotlight. Sen. Gary Hart, who is hoping a little of the light will shine on him Monday, calls Mr. Reagan's trip to Iowa a ''PR ploy'' - that is, public relations.

The White House, of course, hopes the trip is just GP - good politics. After all, every network will be here with its cameras and crews, looking for exciting footage. All the big-name pencil scribes will be around as well. Why should the White House just hand all that free media to the Democrats, whose major goal this year is to send Reagan back permanently to chop wood at the ranch?

The President will be here for only a few hours; but local Republicans hope it will be enough to generate greater interest in their own caucuses, which have been totally overshadowed by the Democrats this time.

Four years ago, when Reagan was battling George Bush, Howard Baker, and several other candidates in the GOP caucuses here, more than 100,000 Republicans turned out. This year, with Reagan having only token opposition, party leaders feel they will be fortunate to see 40,000 show up. The Democrats, spurred by all the excitement in their own party, expect a minimum of 80,000 of their own faithful.

The Reagan trip will be something of a return to memoryland.

His preliminary schedule (details are still being worked out) has him flying first to Waterloo, Iowa, where he will speak briefly to a gathering of an estimated 7,000 people.

Then there's a 15-minute live broadcast planned over WHO, the radio station where Reagan worked as an announcer in the 1930s. There's also the possibility of a reunion with H. R. Gross, a former Iowa congressman who in the 1930s was news director at WHO, and remains a friend of the President.

While all that is going on, they will be getting the crowds ready in Des Moines, where another 7,000 people are expected to hear the President at Veterans Auditorium, an elephantine structure in the center of town. The rally there starts at 4:30 p.m., but everyone is asked to come early - it will take a long time to pass that many people through the metal detectors.

By the time the GOP caucuses begin at 7:30 p.m., Reagan is scheduled to have flown out of the state, say GOP officials.

Despite the complaints by Democrats, there is little doubt that Reagan remains popular in this state, where some still call him ''Dutch.'' Recently, the Monitor asked Democratic county chairmen whether Walter Mondale, or any other Democrat, could whip Reagan here in November. By a 27-to-9 margin, the Democrats said Reagan would probably walk away with it.

Chairman Robert Kohorst of Shelby County observes: ''Reagan is beloved, much like English royalty. He is an avuncular figure for whom the horrendous state of American affairs is always forgiven by the voting public. Only a major mistake by Reagan would give the Democratic nominee a chance.''

Says Rich Landis of Muscatine County: ''Reagan now has sold the public on the idea that his smile is their security.''