After debating two hours to what most observers considered a draw, six Republican presidential hopefuls scattered today -- leaving the state to the Democrats, Ronald Regan and the first severe storm of the year.
A random check of GOP county chairmen today suggested that there was no clear winner in the first nationally televised forum of the race. Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee drew favorable comments from backers of rival contenders, and there were scattered critical comments about the performances of former Texas governor John B. Connally and Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.
But most of them agreed with William Trent, Republican Party chairman of Muscatine County, who said: "All of the candidates came across pretty well. No one outshone the others and no one really looked bad."
State Republican Chairman Steve Roberts said immediately after the debate -- in which several of the contenders gibed at absentee front-runner Reagan -- that Reagan "will alienate some Iowa Republicans by ducking the widely publicized appearance."
But there was little evidence to support that view. Russell Sandy, a back of George Bush, said, "The Reagan no-show didn't bother me at all. I kind of admired him for it. I really question the value of the whole thing."
Reagan, who stayed home in California, comes into Davenport Monday for his fourth Iowa appearance since he declared his candidacy last fall. Like the others, this one will be less than a day in duration.
The most recent Iowa poll in the Des Moines Register showed Reagan the choice of 50 percent of the state's Republicans, with Bush, at 14 percent, his closet challenger. Reagan has scheduled only two more appearances in the state -- one on Thursday and one on Jan. 19, two days before the caucuses that launch the delegate selection process.
Meantime, the Democratic contest, which has been shut down since President Carter's withdrawal led to cancellation of plans for a televised debate from here Monday night, begins to heat up.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D. Mass) -- tied with Carter in the most recent poll -- starts a week-long blitz of every population center in this state Monday. California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., lagging behind his rivals, is campigning here today and Monday.
While Carter stays in the White House, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Vice President Mondale and Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland will prepresent him. All of them can expect tough questions about Carter's decision Friday to cut back grain sales to the Soviet Union in the wake of its invasion of Afghanistan.
The embargo decision his been grabbed by Kennedy and Brown and was criticized by all the Republicans in Saturday night's debate except Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois.
Campaign activity was shut down today as Iowans sheltered from a wind-driven snowstorm and watched the professional football playoffs. Phone checks with nine county GOP chariman from all parts of the state gave a sampling of the reaction to the debate.
Dr. John Lavender of George, who switched from Rep. Phillip M. Crane of Illinois to Reagan last week, said: "They all conducted themselves very well. They didn't say much, but there wasn't anyone stumbling or goofy,"
Gaylord Wilson of West Liberty, a Bush supporter, said it was "a good show for the party to have four or five men with a lot of class up there. Republicans haven't had that to show for a while."
Wilson said he though Baker "had his best night" in the campaign -- a view that was echoed by Steven Noah of Charles City, an Anderson supporter, and by William Ellsworth of Des Moines, who described himself as "leaning to Baker."
Francis Hamilton of Albia, still uncommitted, said, "to be right frank, there were five men running for president who impressed me. It was pretty hard to pick among them, except for John Anderson. Old John went all the way out on a limb and cut it off."
"It left me," said Hamilton, "with the impression you could not put all five names in a hat and pull one out and you'd have the same candidate."