THERE are two reasons that the events of Feb. 8 in Iowa brought joy to Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas and his supporters, and the second is perhaps more important than the first. The first and obvious reason is that he ran first. It was a good strong first - 37 percent of the Republican vote. But this was no surprise. He was running in home territory - the Midwest. He has been a champion of farm benefits. The result merely nails down the fact that the senator from Kansas can run well in the farm belt.
The second reason lies in an event that took place last July. A representative of one of the other Republican candidates called upon Marion G. (Pat) Robertson for the specific purpose of sounding him out on future political alliances. The visitor was particularly interested in Mr. Robertson's feelings about Vice-President George Bush.
The visitor came back from his call on Mr. Robertson with the following report:
When Robertson began to think seriously about running for the presidency, he called upon the vice-president. Both men had degrees from Yale University. Robertson had gone to Yale Law School. He felt he should declare his intentions to the vice-president. He expressed to the vice-president the hope that since they were both from Yale, they would treat each other with respect and courtesy. The Bush reaction was described as a ``cold shoulder.''
As a result of that chilly treatment by Bush, so the report goes, Robertson asserted to his visitor that at the eventual Republican convention he would be ``open to working with candidates other than Bush.''
This report takes on extra meaning now that Robertson came in second in Iowa, with 25 percent of the Republican vote. What he did in Iowa he can undoubtedly do in other states, particularly in the ``Bible belt.''
In political circles it has long been estimated that Robertson might go to the national convention with perhaps as many as 400 delegates. That would not be enough to secure the nomination, but it could be enough to decide the outcome. That possibility is stronger today than it was before. Few if any political experts think Robertson can win the Republican nomination. But anyone can see today that he might have the power to make or break another's candidacy.
Without waiting for the New Hampshire primary, it already seems reasonable to assume there are only four Republican candidates to be taken seriously - Dole, Bush, Robertson, and Kemp. Jack Kemp might improve his showing in New Hampshire, where he has been working hard, but the Republicans with real potential strength are Dole, Bush, and Robertson. If that pattern holds into the convention, it means Robertson would have to decide whether to throw his support to Dole or Bush.
I am not free to name the source of the report on the Robertson-Bush conversation. I can say that that source has never misled me. I take it as meaning that it is unlikely Robertson would release his delegates to Bush.
The Dole people, therefore, are happy not only because their man did well in Iowa. They are equally happy that Robertson came in a strong second.
As for the Democrats, their best-funded candidates are Michael Dukakis and Albert Gore. Gore did not run in Iowa. He counts on Super Tuesday for his launching platform. Iowa advances Richard Gephardt and Paul Simon to serious status. If either one of them does well in New Hampshire, one can see a three-cornered race between Dukakis, Gore, and either Gephardt or Simon.
Dukakis came in third in Iowa, but who could expect a governor from Massachusetts to do even that well in the farm belt? It establishes him as being more than a regional figure.
To sum it up, Dole looms high on the Republican horizon. No one yet dominates the Democratic side. An outsider (Mario Cuomo or Sam Nunn?) is still possible.