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Ah, shucks! Corn Man is gone for good

Sunday, January 23, 2000

By Gene Collier

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Having spent way more time here pointing to the highballing economy than you'd think would be necessary, Al Gore has apparently decided that it's all right to vaporize a few jobs right here in the snow-slapped heartland.

In the past few days, before Iowa's enigmatic political caucuses, the first clumsy step in the eight-month song and dance by which America picks its presidential candidates, the vice president has personally eliminated at least one job.

Corn Man's.

Corn Man's job was to get dressed up in a giant cornstalk suit and dog Gore rival Bill Bradley all over Iowa, screaming at him about farm policy at every opportunity. Emergency farm aid. Crop subsidies. Corn Man would wail about why Bradley hadn't supported them during his years in the Senate, but it's doubtful the Gore campaign really wanted Corn Man to wonk policy with the former Rhodes Scholar. It was more that, since Bradley is 6-foot-5, the Gore people needed someone or something who could face him eye-to-husk.

Corn Man's job might not have meant much to a lifelong Washington blue-blood like Gore, but it had its own special agrarian dignity.

All right, maybe it didn't, but a job's a job. And now it's gone.

"We don't do Corn Man anymore," a Gore campaign worker explained to me the other day.

"That's impossible," I said. "You must do Corn Man. He was just getting started. His picture was getting into the big national papers. Is this the kind of message you want to send about the way a Gore presidency is going to nurture ideas and commit to innovative concepts?"

"No, we don't do Corn Man anymore," she said, elaborating.

I was going to start in about the poor man's loss of purpose, and even about The Children of the Corn Man.

"Three different people were Corn Man," she huffed. "They were all volunteers."

All right, so maybe technically, Gore hasn't trimmed the labor force, but the fact is, this Iowa campaign needs Stupid Crop Tricks. For entertainment's sake, there isn't a lot to recommend it otherwise, unless it's the George W. Bush campaign claiming the Steve Forbes campaign has aggressively doctored photos of Bush to make his ears appear bigger.

I'm not even going to comment on that situation, as it is my intention to keep this column focused on the higher-minded aspects of this campaign and to issues critical to the future of this great nation. So back to Corn Man.

"Can I talk with Corn Man, any Corn Man?" I said.

"No, there is no Corn Man," she said.

"Oh, you mean, he's like Bruce Wayne? Is that the last thing he said? 'To the Corn Cave!' "

When the history of these Iowa caucuses is written (and it will be, because otherwise, to whom will the national political writers go for an academic validity stamp during the 2004 campaign?), it will be shown that Corn Man actually eliminated himself. He was too good.

Iowans have been convinced that Bradley is lukewarm on farm issues, and that's part of why polls show Gore favored here by margins of up to 2-to-1. The Gore campaign no longer has to show its candidate attacking Bradley on any particular front, in or out of a crop disguise.

Even though Gore has apparently enlisted some political eye candy in the long form of model Christie Brinkley, the stunts seem to be largely over.

Bradley outspent Gore on TV time here, and that package includes some commercials that run a full 20 minutes. The Bradley campaign has to feel as though Iowans have more time on their hands than most folks, but just because they serve a potato and corn chowder that is thicker than Bolshevik narrative, it doesn't mean they plan to stew on things much longer than the average voter.

While Bradley's make-or-break campaign date doesn't come until the Feb. 1 New Hampshire primary, the candidate with the most at stake as he crisscrosses Iowa's slush-encrusted interstates remains Forbes, who's spent a small fortune of his own large fortune, simplifying, oversimplifying, and then re-oversimplifying core issues he somehow feels could spin him out of Iowa as a legitimate Republican candidate.

I hope he doesn't borrow any strategy from the Gore campaign. I don't want to bump into Flat Tax Man, much less Aborted Fetus Man.

Gene Collier's e-mail address is gcollier@post-gazette.com

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