The chairman of the Iowa Christian Coalition has gotten into trouble with the national leadership of the organization over the upcoming Iowa GOP straw poll. And for the past few days, the spat has dominated political coverage in the state.

It started when Bonnie Gobel claimed this week that many months ago someone from Steve Forbes's presidential campaign had inquired about hiring temporary workers to cast votes at the Aug. 14 straw poll in Ames. Gobel runs a temporary employment agency.

Forbes officials vigorously denied the charge, and Christian Coalition headquarters in Virginia issued a statement claiming that Gobel had been misquoted. But she refused to go along. Instead, she added a critical assessment of Forbes.

"I cannot say that Steve Forbes is one of us," she said. "He is not an evangelical. He is not a conservative Christian."

That may have stung a bit, given that Forbes has worked hard since his failed 1996 campaign to court the party's religious conservatives.

"We've made strong efforts and great strides," Bill Dal Col, Forbes's political director, told the Des Moines Register.

It also seems to run counter to the national Christian Coalition view, because HQ issued another statement scolding Gobel in opaque terms: "Recent characterization of events surrounding the upcoming Iowa straw poll are unfortunate and in our view inaccurate."

Gobel told the Register that she decided to talk because she feels the time has come to expose the silliness of the straw poll, which has become a major test of organizational strength for candidates who hope to prevent a stampede to nominate Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Gobel doesn't believe the event, a fund-raiser for the Iowa GOP, should have such significance, given that campaigns spend lavishly on entertainment, food, transportation and free admission for their supporters, and, in general, a spirit of happy vote-buying reigns.

The Washington Post made repeated efforts to contact Gobel, but she did not return the calls.

Checking Out the Plaid

The plaid is back. Republican presidential hopeful Lamar Alexander, who ditched the plaid shirt that was the trademark of his 1996 campaign for the nomination in favor of a business suit, brought it back this week as the motif for his invitation to backers to attend the straw vote in Ames.

Against a checkerboard background of black, gray and red squares, the invitation asks: "Hungry for a New America?" Inside, the former Tennessee governor offers Iowans "FREE tickets" to a barbecue outside the Coliseum and a chance to meet country music singer Crystal Gayle, football coach Johnny Majors and someone identified as "Big Screen Movie Star United States Senator Fred Thompson."

Staff writer David S. Broder contributed to this report.