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Gramm Leaves Few Stones Unturned in Courting Iowa Voters

January 23, 1996

ANKENY, Iowa (AP) _ Phil Gramm is leaving few stones unturned as he courts Iowa voters: He talks wistfully of buying a tractor, wields a chart on his economic package, and then makes the ultimate offer to 3-year-old Brandon Behan.

``I’m from the government. I’m here to bring you a sweet roll,″ the Republican presidential hopeful declared Tuesday.

Even with such a sweet promise, though, Gramm came away empty, leaving a couple of undecided voters at the latest in a string of kitchen tables to be visited by his presidential campaign.

Undeterred, Gramm is betting much of his Republican presidential campaign on the hope that a dogged pursuit of voters, one at a time, will pay dividends next month.

Notwithstanding a flurry of political ads by the major candidates, Gramm says those who score in next month’s caucuses will do so through the painful work of building an organization one block at a time.

``I think grass-roots politics is still the key to the caucuses in Iowa,″ Gramm said.

That was Gramm’s mission Tuesday, opening a three-day swing of town-hall meetings and visits to Iowans’ kitchen tables to promote the modified flat tax and economic package he unveiled last week.

The opening target was Jeff Behan and his wife, Jodi, and their two kids.

``Most Americans, when they think about financial matters and about balancing their budget, they think about it right here at their kitchen table,″ Gramm said.

Behan, a 27-year-old engineer for John Deere, would seem to be an ideal target. He voted for President Clinton last time but isn’t likely to do so again. Now, he is looking over the Republican field.

``Fiscally, I’m pretty conservative,″ said Behan, who admitted he was impressed with Gramm’s pitch.

Impressed, but not convinced.

He still is considering Gramm, publisher Steve Forbes and front-runner Bob Dole.

Gramm’s pitch was direct: pushing a balanced budget and trying to explain ``what difference it would make in your life as a guy who works for John Deere.″

``One of my dreams is to someday have a John Deere tractor,″ Gramm said.

Gramm finished his pitch with a plea: ``As you’re making up your mind, don’t just read our lips, read our record.″ Then he was off through the snow, off to sit at another Iowa kitchen table.

Balancing the budget, Gramm says, is the issue that will push him over the top.

``I have always thought if people understood what we can get as a nation with a balanced budget ... we would have a lot more support to make the hard decisions,″ he said.

``I really hope it works,″ Behan said. ``It’s going to take a lot of tough decisions and sometimes I’m not sure the public is ready for that.″

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