DES MOINES, FEB. 7 -- With mounting expectations of record turnouts, 11 Democratic and Republican candidates barnstormed from pep rallies to church pulpits and from pancake breakfasts to makeshift television studios in a frantic final push to rally their troops before Monday night's first major test of the 1988 presidential campaign.
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) implied that if he were president, he would have already sacked Attorney General Edwin Meese III.
Dole said he would not presume to advise President Reagan what to do, but when asked hypothetically by NBC-TV "Meet the Press" moderator Chris Wallace if he would allow an attorney general "who has been under repeated investigations, who's spent a lot of time before grand juries," to stay in office, Dole responded: "I wouldn't allow it."
"If there's any appearance of impropriety -- I don't mean just go around and sack people because somebody makes an allegation in a newspaper, but if you're concerned about some appearance and you think it's going to hang on for a while, you ought to cut your losses," Dole said.
Shortly afterward, in an impromptu news conference after attending church here, Vice President Bush took issue with Dole. "I always remember the fair play of the American people. They don't go jumping to conclusions before they know the facts. Certainly I'm not going to do anything of that nature," Bush said.
Pat Robertson, who attended five church services across the state, said, "Ed Meese is a good man. You can't be sure that all these charges have any merit to them."
While the candidates led hordes of reporters and camera crews around the state, their field organizations reported that "hard counts" -- the number of voters who say they definitely plan to attend the caucuses -- are rising dramatically.
"We're busting our quotas all over the state," said Jim Cunningham, a top aide to the campaign of Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). "I didn't think we were going to get a big turnout until two weeks ago. Now, I think we are going to set all kinds of records."
"The whole thing has grown exponentially -- the amount of time candidates have spent, the level of organization, the media attention," said Steve Murphy, Gephardt's Iowa coordinator. "I think we're going to get a lot of walk-ins tomorrow night."
In caucus parlance, a "walk-in" is someone not previously identified as a likely caucus-goer. Given the hundreds of thousands of telephone calls to voters in recent weeks, it is hard to believe there would be any walk-ins. But with the unprecedented heavy use of paid television advertising, the caucuses are resembling what then-Republican candidate Howard H. Baker Jr. called them during the 1980 campaign: "the functional equivalent of a primary."
Strategists for the major Democratic competitors agree that Gephardt will probably get the biggest boost from a large turnout. As part of his media strategy, he ran many of his television commercials on shows such as "Andy Griffith," "Wheel of Fortune" and "Three's Company." Viewers of those shows are less likely to be previous caucus-goers. Most previous caucus attendees were more white-collar and upper-income than the general population. The strategy was to use the ads to increase Gephardt's standing in the preference polls, hoping the momentum would be felt among caucus-goers. Gephardt, well back in the pack six weeks ago, goes into the caucuses leading in all Democratic polls.
The biggest Iowa turnouts to date were in 1980, when 106,000 Republicans and 100,000 Democrats attended caucuses. Some Democrats estimate a turnout as high as 125,000 to 150,000, while on the Republican side, the infusions of tens of thousands of evangelicals who have never before attended caucuses should mean new records as well. There are 1.6 million registered voters in the state.
At the headquarters of Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), more than 1,000 volunteers were being deployed to all 99 counties to begin the final get-out-the-vote operations.
"My stand is not an election-year conversion," Simon told a rally of several hundred supporters here this afternoon, in a gibe at Gephardt. "We don't need a manager," he said, referring to Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D). "We need someone with a vision."
Dukakis, appearing on "Meet the Press," predicted a "photo finish" here Monday night. Questioned about the Monroe Doctrine, he said that as president he would not tolerate the introduction of offensive weapons by the Soviet Union into a client-state in the Western Hemisphere, but implied that he would not object to the mere creation of a Soviet client.
All the campaigns had hundreds of volunteers this weekend making final live contact with voters and arranging for buses, vans and cars to be available to transport supporters to the 2,487 neighborhood caucuses.
Among the get-out-the-vote troops here for Gephardt were eight Washington lobbyists, who flew here at their own expense to help a candidate who has portrayed himself as an anti-establishment figure running against the greed of corporate America.
Among the lobbyists were Geoffrey Peterson, of the Distilled Spirits Council; Paul Equale, vice president of the Independent Insurance Agents Association; Walter Moore of the American Hospital Association; and Gene Godley, whose clients include the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the National Cable TV Association and Liberty Bank of New Jersey.
One of Gephardt's commercials declares: "There's someone else we need to get tough with -- corporate America."
Campaign manager William Carrick explained: "We've gotten so tough with them we've put them to work. These are young campaign veterans who like the smell of gunpowder and they're out here doing their thing."
Bush, appearing on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley," repeated today that he did not hear the strong objections to the Iran arms sales from Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger. Bush was asked specifically about a Jan. 7, 1986, meeting at which Shultz said he voiced his objections. The records of Reagan's personal secretary show that Bush attended the meeting, but other records are ambiguous and some aides have said Bush may have come in late.
"The president says I wasn't at the meeting," Bush said. "He tells me he doesn't remember anyone pounding vigorously. I don't remember it at all . . . . The president told me he remembers George Shultz sitting in my chair . . . . I don't remember that. I don't remember it at all. I'm not hiding anything. If I remembered it, I'd tell ya."
Bush avoided questions about his increasingly vitriolic fight with Dole, but he did offer a conditional apology to his wife, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, whose blind trust has been the subject of questions raised by the Bush campaign.
"I looked at that material and saw nothing that I thought was a criticism of Elizabeth. But if so, I would totally apologize to her."
On a more personal note during today's news shows, Bush said his occasional use of salty language in public is a habit he acquired during his "Navy days." Dole said, in response to a question, that he relaxes "by watching the news programs."
Staff writers Sidney Blumenthal, Thomas B. Edsall and David Hoffman contributed to this report.