There he is standing on the floor of the Hilton Coliseum. See him? Tall and reedy, hair in place, tie knotted perfectly, a picture of unruffledness Saturday at the close of this carnival. Squinting toward the stage, he gazes at a white board displaying the results of the Iowa straw poll, the super-hyped Republican political event of the year.
In order: George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, Elizabeth Dole, Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, Lamar Alexander, Alan Keyes, Dan Quayle, Orrin Hatch.
"Well, it's about what I expected," says Hatch, Utah's senior senator. "I expected Bush to get 50 percent, so it's a real disaster for him. And nobody expects Forbes to be our nominee. He's a nice guy, but he's not going to be our nominee."
At this very moment, droves of reporters are scurrying toward the Forbes scrum. They feel duty-bound to record what Forbes has to say. Hardly anyone feels duty-bound to record what Hatch has to say. But he keeps talking because he is running for president, too.
It's awfully strange to see Hatch scrambling for respectability in this new milieu. He is, after all, a senator of 22 years, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a man of stature in Washington, respected on both sides of the aisle, an unrigid conservative, Teddy Kennedy's dear friend, a man normally sought out by the media for his authority on the weighty matters of the day.
But as a candidate for president of the United States? To put it bluntly, he's a nobody.
"We're not discouraged," Hatch continues. "Looks like Elizabeth Dole and Orrin Hatch are the only ones who can give Bush a run for his money. . . . We had 12 days in the state. I think we did phenomenal. . . . Actually, we were told if we could get 250 votes, we'd be lucky. Keep in mind, this is just a straw poll."
Perhaps only Orrin Hatch could coolly spin 558 votes into victory. That's 558 out of more than 24,000 cast. That's last among the nine candidates who competed. That's trailing the dust of candidates who've never been elected to anything.
Who knows how Hatch would have fared if he hadn't entered the race way late, July 1 to be precise, after Bush already had raised $37 million? So late that the top Republicans in his own state were caught in an awkward position. Sen. Robert Bennett announced he was endorsing Hatch but would continue to help Dole. Gov. Mike Leavitt said he, too, would back Hatch but continue supporting Bush.
"It's not that it's too late for Hatch," says Jeff Bell, a campaign consultant for Bauer, one of those inexperienced candidates who whipped Hatch at the straw poll. "I don't think he's figured out a rationale for his candidacy. The question is: Who is his base?"
What happened in Ames on Saturday was important, if only as a snapshot of that weird experience known as running for president. To run, to seriously run, takes some combination of ego, desire, dedication and perhaps hubris.
"Every senator would like to run for president, but most of them don't have the guts to do it," says Sen. Charles Grassley, Hatch's GOP colleague from Iowa. "If I was 20 years younger, I'd be running myself."
Grassley is 65. So is Hatch, and he's running, all right. In fact, he's just beginning to run. And by his own declaration, he's not quitting any time soon.
Taking It to the Hoop
About three weeks ago, Hatch telephoned Karl Malone, a strapping power forward for the Utah Jazz and a two-time MVP of the National Basketball Association.
In other words, a star. "He said, 'I need your help on something,' " Malone recalls. " 'I want you to come to Iowa. I think we can make some noise.' "
Hatch didn't make any noise in the straw-poll balloting, but he finished near the top in the category of best entertainment/coolest celebrities.
Malone was in Ames all day, a magnet for autograph seekers and picture takers, no matter whether they were supporting Hatch. "Actually, I'm supporting Forbes," whispers Connie Stenson, after she snaps a photo of Malone and her mother. "And now my mother's going to have a heart attack."
Malone even addressed the Teamsters for Hatch. Tried to cut into Buchanan's support there. Put on a Teamsters hat and told stories about growing up in Louisiana and dreaming of owning 18-wheelers. The Teamsters loved it. Malone is so important to Hatch that he didn't want to walk anywhere without him. "Karl, get up here with me . . . Where's Karl? . . . I want Karl with me."
Malone was introduced at the Hatch tent as co-chairman of his campaign. He is throwing a fund-raiser for Hatch this week at a new bed-and-breakfast Malone and his wife own in Salt Lake City.
"I don't want it to be misconstrued that I'm throwing my hat in the political arena," Malone demurs. "I'm really here supporting a friend.
"Everybody else is jumping on these other bandwagons. The thing with Senator Hatch is he has always supported me in basketball, win or lose. If he tells you something, he does it. He told me he was going to do this two or three years ago, and I told him when he did I'd support him."
At 1 p.m., the show starts in one of Hatch's tents. In the other, folks are eating fried chicken and baked beans and potato salad. The show features the golden throat of Vic Damone, who's clearly still got it.
I got the world on a string, sitting on a rainbow. Got the string around my finger . . .
It's standing room only. Miriam Beck is standing. She's a registered nurse from Council Bluffs and a Hatch supporter. "Why? He's a very religious man and has a lot of the same values as I have. He did get in late, but of all the candidates, he has the most experience. Who can compete with that? He knows his stuff.
"Sure, he's behind on the money, but his philosophy is, if one million people can pay $36 . . ." Then what? He can catch Bush? Yes, says Beck, pointing to her I'm-one-in-a-million-for-Hatch lapel sticker. Meaning she's given her $36.
After Damone, pianist Roger Williams (a Des Moines native) dazzles the crowd with his ivory magic. And then the show is over.
Hatch addresses his supporters.
"Very unlikely we're going to win this, but we're certainly going to show with all of you here. And that's a heckuva miracle."
And then Hatch is on the move.
A question: Does he really expect to win the GOP nomination?
"Of course. I'm not in this for a game. I'm not in this for ego. I've got the greatest record of accomplishment. I'm known for bringing people together. And not just Republicans. Democrats, too. Liberals and conservatives.
"It's like the turtle and the hare, and I'm the turtle. I just keep plowing ahead until I catch him."
Hatch, by the way, is also simultaneously running for a fifth Senate term, as a new Utah law permits him to do. He won't be the turtle in that race.
Hatch is onstage now, scanning the faces of the thousands who have packed the Hilton Coliseum. He has just rocked the crowd with his jab at Bill and Hillary and Al, about how it's time for them to go home "if any of them can figure out just where home is."
"Oh, that's a good line," says Greg Mueller, a Forbes adviser. "The crowd's loving that."
Hatch has got his white T-shirted rooters up in Sections 2 and 25 of the balcony, and another group on the floor, and together they're trying to make some noise. "Orrin! Orrin! Orrin!" They're whistling. They're screaming. Hatch's speech is finished, and he takes his bows with family in tow--wife Elaine, three daughters and eight grandchildren.
Then he returns to a holding room. Now he can watch the others on C-SPAN. The balloting is not yet over, but already the aides are working on different versions of news releases to spin the results of the contest in Hatch's favor.
Hatch's legs are crossed, and he's holding his wife's hand. Forbes's face is on the screen. "The interesting thing is I like every one of these guys. And some of them won't make it," Hatch says. "Some of them think I won't make it, but not the ones who know me."
Forbes is done, and the camera pans to Bush offstage.
"We better listen to this one," Hatch says.
"He's cute," says Elaine.
"Oh, he's a good-looking man," says Hatch. "I tell you, Forbes took some pretty sharp jabs at him."
Hatch is paying close attention to Bush's speech and likes much of what he's hearing. "He's got some good lines in there."
He turns to Elaine. "When Elizabeth comes out, I'm going to give her a hug. It's been a tough day for her." Not yet knowing the poll results--Dole finished third--he thought she could use some support.
At 6:15 p.m., with two hours of voting left, press secretary Jeff Flint walks in with news--on his pad is the number of $25 tickets each campaign claims to have distributed, an indicator of how the vote might break down. Hatch looks at the pad. "That's interesting." He is last on that list.
"I was a little nervous," he says of his speech. "I didn't want to let the people who came down. I've never run for president before."
Bush finishes his comments. Then Dole finishes. Each candidate gets only 13 minutes. And now Hatch is out of the door and quickly at the base of the stage to greet the Doles--Elizabeth and Bob, who has joined her.
He hugs Elizabeth and ushers Bob back to say hello to Elaine. Dole is asked what he thinks of his former colleague's bid for the presidency.
The GOP's 1996 nominee turns to Hatch. "Well, you've only been out here for 30 days, right?" Not that long, Hatch says. "Well, good luck. Lot of nice people out here. Lot of Mormons out here."
Hatch laughs. Dole, forever the jokester. A lot of Mormons in Iowa, huh? "I wish," Hatch says.
Onward and Upward?
It's not so bad losing, one supposes, if you don't expect to win. Hatch didn't expect to get within a hundred acres of winning the Iowa straw poll.
"The big story here is George W. Bush only got 31 percent," he says. "That shows some vulnerability. . . . It reflects this race is wide open."
That's Hatch's story as nighttime falls, as he stands on the floor of the coliseum, the show over.
"They said we'd get 1 percent, but we got 2.4 percent, so we exceeded expectations. . . . We've just got to keep exceeding expectations."
Hatch didn't get invited to try his straw-poll spin on "Meet the Press" today. So be it. He awoke in Iowa and smelled the coffee, and it still smelled good to him, and so he flew to New Hampshire and headed straight for a GOP picnic in Amherst to continue making a case for his quixotic, long-shot bid for the presidency.
"This is a new league," says Hatch. "I've got to win my spurs."
CAPTION: Hatch, with wife Elaine, in Ames: "They said we'd get 1 percent, but we got 2.4 percent, so we exceeded expectations."
CAPTION: Utah's senior senator with Utah Jazz star Karl Malone. "This is a new league," says Hatch of his presidential bid. "I've got to win my spurs."