Elizabeth Dole pledged more aid for farmers and offered "courageous conservatism," while Lamar Alexander said President Clinton "has been diddling" while farmers went broke.
Ohio Rep. John R. Kasich touted his work as head of the House Budget Committee in the busiest political weekend of the emerging campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
The trio descended today on the Iowa State Fairgrounds to talk farming with shirt-sleeved producers at the World Pork Expo, around a stage normally used for talent contests.
At the fairgrounds, Dole touted a 10-point farm program that would cut taxes and help struggling livestock producers. Her plan aims to bolster exports, seeking to include China in world trade and creating new hemispheric trading zones.
"The next president, whoever she may be, must stabilize the farm economy by exercising leadership to expand domestic markets and increasing exports," Dole said.
She put no price tag on her package, but she made clear she would not pinch pennies in a state that produces a quarter of the nation's hogs -- and starts the presidential nominating season.
Dole referred often to her ties to the state and the long political history in Iowa of her husband, Robert J. Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee. "For almost a quarter of a century, I've been living with a guy who is an agriculture expert," she said.
Rivals of GOP front-runner George W. Bush have attacked the Texas governor for being vague on the issues.
"I think that people in Iowa want straight talk," said Dole, the closest contender to Bush in most polls. "I think they want people with the courage of their convictions. That's what I call courageous conservatism and that's what I'm bringing to the table."
She rejected suggestions she was taking a shot at Bush, who describes himself as a "compassionate conservative."
"I'm speaking for Elizabeth Dole," she said.
All the contenders sought to play on the down-home flavor of the Pork Expo.
"I haven't seen so much pork since the highway bill passed Congress last year," Kasich said. "The values that are practiced every day on the American farm are very special."
Alexander also focused on farming, saying he would boost export subsidies, farm research and the use of ethanol-blended fuels. Clinton got most of his fire. "While Bill Clinton has been diddling and Al Gore has been cheerleading, more farmers have been going out of business than during the farm crisis of the 1980s," Alexander said.
With Bush making his initial campaign foray into Iowa, a huge media crush descended on the state and a string of candidates sought to catch some of that attention.
Campaigning separately, a fourth Republican, conservative activist Gary Bauer, warned Democrats will pay a political price because of military weaknesses exposed in the Balkan bombing campaign.
Bauer said here Friday night that though the Balkan bombing campaign had success, it underscored a shortage of weaponry because of Clinton's budget cuts. "In the course of that war he inadvertently elevated what is going to be a major issue in 2000," Bauer said.
CAPTION: Elizabeth Dole gets a kiss from a supporter at an ice cream social in Linn County, Iowa. Dole was in the state to address agricultural issues as part of her campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency.