Vice President Gore today rallied his supporters to give him a big victory in Monday's Iowa caucuses, hoping to use the results as a springboard to a victory in the upcoming New Hampshire primary that could cripple the campaign of rival Bill Bradley.

Bradley, seeking to dampen the effect of a defeat here, responded with a series of enthusiastic rallies and a pledge to keep campaigning through the March 7 round of primaries that includes California and New York, no matter what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire. The former New Jersey senator said he intends to stay in the race until the summer's Democratic convention.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush appeared poised for a big victory in the Republican caucuses here and he too hopes to carry the momentum into New Hampshire, where he has begun to gain against his chief rival there, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is not competing actively in Iowa.

McCain's absence in Iowa gives magazine publisher Steve Forbes his best opportunity to make good on his claim that he is the main conservative challenger to Bush and a strong second-place finish here could thrust him into the middle of the New Hampshire contest.

But Forbes faces strong competition for the votes of social and religious conservatives from Alan Keyes, who has drawn increasingly large crowds, including a rally here today that topped 1,000, and Gary Bauer. Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch also is competing here.

On a cold Iowa Sunday, the candidates were spread across the state from Ames to Dubuque to Waterloo, campaigning in churches and union halls and on university campuses trying to generate excitement and swell the turnout for the Monday night caucuses. Thousands of volunteers delivered campaign literature door-to-door and phoned potential caucus-goers with final words of encouragement and instruction.

After a year of fund-raising, straw polls, debates and preparations, Monday's precinct caucuses mark the opening round of the nomination battle in both parties--the first time voters will have a clear voice in the process. With the primary season calendar clogged with events over the next eight weeks, the nominees of both parties are likely to be evident by early March.

Despite a growing lead in the latest Des Moines Register poll, Gore showed no sign of backing away from his sharp criticism of Bradley. At a Davenport rally, he ridiculed his rival for suggesting Gore's support here is based largely on "entrenched power." Looking out over the audience, Gore said, "These veterans and teachers and working men and women and family farmers are not fighting for entrenched power."

Gore also accused Bradley of treating education "as kind of an afterthought, adding, "I want you to think about this because if you don't believe education is the number one priority for our future . . . then you're at the wrong rally here."

Gore's campaign day began at 8 a.m., and he was not scheduled to return to his hotel until nearly midnight. In the interim were a potluck dinner, a brief chance to watch his Tennessee Titans with a group of firefighters, and some precinct-walking in Des Moines, where the first family he encountered said they were Republicans supporting Bush.

Bradley, whose Iowa staff was openly speculating a month ago about a possible victory here, sought to play down the effect of a loss Monday. He said Gore's support from Democratic Party officials and key constituencies made Iowa an uphill fight from the beginning.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm out there for the candidacy," Bradley said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I think we've come a long way from beginning a campaign where I wasn't known by anybody in Iowa, and I think that this is the first step of several steps in a journey."

But Bradley appears to be facing growing problems in New Hampshire, the state that first gave him credibility as a challenger against the sitting vice president. Bradley narrowly led Gore late last year in New Hampshire, but in the last week, Gore has pulled ahead, according to several polls released today.

Asked how losses in Iowa and New Hampshire would affect his candidacy, Bradley said he would continue to point to what he described as a virtual national primary on March 7 and beyond. "I hope that we're going to have major wins down the road and we'll be able to move on to the convention, no question about that," he said.

At a rally in Mount Vernon today, he said: "You know, they say we're behind in Iowa, but as I look around this crowd, I think, 'You know, we could surprise a few people.' " The audience burst into applause.

Tonight, more than 900 people packed a Bradley rally at the University of Iowa student union. Iowa City fire officials turned scores more away as supporters sang a campaign song written by a Bradley fan in California that begins, "I haven't felt this way since JFK! . . . We need an honest point of view. Bill Bradley is the man for you."

Bradley actually seemed giddy as he took the stage with his wife, Ernestine. "These are time of unprecedented prosperity," he said. "Now's the time to think big. Now's the time to guarantee every child in America health care." The audience roared back its agreement.

The Register poll showed Gore at 56 percent and Bradley slipping to 28 percent. But with that disappointing news, Bradley got one final boost when he received the endorsement from the Register, the state's largest and most influential newspaper.

Several Republican candidates went to church before fanning out across Iowa. While taxes have dominated the GOP debate in New Hampshire, abortion has been the principal issue here in Iowa.

During an appearance on ABC's "This Week," Bush reaffirmed his support for the Republican platform plank that calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, saying if he were the party's nominee, he would not seek to change the language that has sparked fights at past GOP national conventions. "I'm recommending the platform remain the same, and I'm recommending the Republican Party let me be the nominee so I can lead the country to a better appreciation of life," he said. In another display of his antiabortion beliefs, Bush said he believed that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the Texas legislature would pass legislation barring first-trimester abortions.

But Forbes accused Bush of failing to state clearly where he stands on whether he would select a vice presidential running mate and federal judges who oppose abortion. "I don't know where he stands," Forbes said on NBC's "Meet the Press." Taunting his rival, Forbes said Bush has been trying to "finely calibrate" his abortion position "to appear to be one way and then another way."

Bush kicked off a final burst of campaigning with a visit to Waterloo, urging voters not to be complacent about Monday's caucus. Bush said today he was optimistic about Monday's results, but added he is still worried that some of his supporters may believe he doesn't need their help. Bush picked up the endorsement of the Des Moines Register today and the newspaper's final pre-caucus poll showed the Texas governor leading Forbes 43 percent to 20 percent.

Forbes, who has spent 60 days campaigning in Iowa, dismissed the Register's decision to endorse Bush, saying the paper was simply supporting "politics as usual." He told reporters he expected to do well enough in the caucuses to eclipse Bauer, Keyes and Hatch. "I'm going to emerge as the true conservative in this race," he said. "I think that's going to give us a real push going into New Hampshire."

Forbes also reiterated a prediction made by his campaign manager that Bush would finish third in New Hampshire. "So it will be a race between me and John McCain," he said. At Iowa State University, Forbes criticized Bush and McCain on taxes. "Two of my principal opponents say it's unrealistic to get rid of this federal tax code," Forbes said to a crowd of about 200 that warmed more to his tax message than his antiabortion rhetoric. "That begins to get my blood boiling a little bit."

Bush was asked about taxes during his ABC interview. He adamantly defended a New Hampshire television ad attacking McCain's tax plan, despite protests from the McCain camp that the senator had clarified a disputed provision affecting employer-paid fringe benefits. "As far as I was concerned, he didn't" clarify the position, Bush said.

The governor also tried to explain why he signed a pledge during his first gubernatorial campaign opposing an increase in the state sales tax and then later supported raising the sales tax as part of a comprehensive tax-cutting package. Saying "there's pledges all the time," Bush said he had made clear to the Texas anti-tax group that he planned to seek the reform of education funding that foreshadowed the shift in positions.

McCain spent the day in New Hampshire, where he was asked about his decision to skip Iowa. "I have no regrets whatsoever," he replied. "I know it was a high-risk decision, but this is a high-risk campaign."

Staff writers Mike Allen, Ceci Connolly, Terry M. Neal and Ben White in Iowa and Edward Walsh in New Hampshire contributed to this report.

Background

Iowa Caucus

THE VOTE

Voting rules: Registered voters may participate in their party's caucus.

Allocation methods: Democrats require 15% of the vote at all levels of the process for a candidate to get a portion of the vote. Republicans allow delegates to run as individuals, and they are not officially allocated to any presidential candidate.

Meeting time: 7 p.m.

Precincts: 2,142

Delegates:

Dem. GOP

Number 47 25

Percent of total 1.3% 1.2%

THE STATE

Population: 2.8 million

Race

White 97%

Black 2%

Other 1%

Rural 40%

1996 presidential vote

Dem. 50%

GOP 40%

Indep. 10%

Median household income

Iowa $35,664

U.S. $38,223

Poverty rate

Iowa 13.0%

U.S. 9.3%

SOURCES: U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Almanac of American Politics, "Race for the Presidency"

CAPTION: Texas Gov. George W. Bush speaks at a rally at Hoover Middle School in Waterloo, Iowa.

CAPTION: Former senator Bill Bradley greets supporters at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

CAPTION: Vice President Gore reaches out to a voter after a caucus training session in Clinton, Iowa.