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NOTHING NEW FROM IOWA

Two days after the Iowa caucuses, we don't know a whole lot more than we knew before them. George W. Bush remains the solid front-runner on the Republican side, with Vice President Gore more entrenched as the Democratic favorite with a resounding 63 percent to 35 percent triumph over Bill Bradley. Still, the results raise some interesting questions for the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Bush failed to deliver a knockout punch, but none was needed against this field. His major challenger, Sen. John McCain, did not campaign in Iowa. Steve Forbes, who finished a surprisingly strong second with 30 percent of the vote to Bush's 41 percent, still has to prove that his campaign will travel well.

From Day One, Forbes based his campaign on a strong showing in Iowa and invested more resources there than anyone else. The question now is whether his campaign will resonate in New Hampshire, where he's done some work but not nearly as much as McCain and Bush.

In addition, the third-place finish of Alan Keyes, who got 14 percent of the vote, combined with Forbes' stronger-than-expected showing, raises the question of whether that hard-line conservative support will hinder Bush in New Hampshire, where the polls show him in a statistical dead heat with McCain. Several political scientists have suggested that support for Forbes and Keyes is far more likely to come out of Bush's hide than McCain's.

On the Democratic side, if there is one clear message from the caucus results, it's that Bradley now needs New Hampshire -- where he's even or ahead in varying polls -- more than ever.

Gore's lopsided victory showed the value of organization in a caucus state. The existing Democratic structure in place favored Gore, who called on labor unions and teacher organizations to man the phones and get out the vote. Bradley, who couldn't call on that kind of organization and had to rely more on television ads, was at a disadvantage from the start.

Ironically, Bradley's weak showing may end up helping McCain in Tuesday's Republican primary, some analysts believe. If New Hampshire's independent voters think the Bradley campaign is a dead letter, their support could go largely to McCain.

Still, when all is said and done, and after all the analyses, not much has changed from Monday. And perhaps that's just as well. Maybe that will dissuade everyone -- especially the media -- from making such a big deal about caucuses in a small state that draw only a small minority of voters. If most of Iowa's voters don't care, why should we?

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