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Rating the debate and nondebate on Iowa hustings

Who won the Republican debate and the Democratic nondebate? The answers, based on editorial comment and the views of politicians from both parties: * The GOP was the only clear winner in the confrontation of six of its presidential candidates.

The consensus of observers is that all of the debaters -- John B. connally, George Bush, Sens. Howard H. Baker Jr. and Robert Dole, US Reps. John B. Anderson and Philip M. Crane -- came through on television as intelligent, articulate, and as men of high caliber.

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Whether Ronald Reagan, by his absence, was the "loser," as some analysts were saying just after the debate, is not clear. Politicians from around the United States say they see no signs of erosion of support for Mr. Reagan. He remains the distinct front-runner among Republicans.

* The Carter-Kennedy-Brown debate, which the President scuttled by dropping out, nevertheless continues -- with all of Iowa as the stage.

The chief issue, and one that would have been the center- piece of the Des Moines debate had it taken place Jan. 7, is whether the President's decision to cut off grain sales to the Soviet Union was a good one.

This question is being argued mainly by Senator Kennedy, who asserts that the move would cause "enormous kinds of disruptions" for American (and particularly Iowa) farmers. He charges, too, that the cutoff will "hurt the American farmer and taxpayers more than it will the Soviet Union."

The President's rebuttal is that the decision was necessary to send a signal to the Soviets. Further, he is arguing that vast government purchases of the grain that was to be sold to the Soviets will ease much of the discomfort that farmers will feel.

The broader issue being argued among the Democrats, and particularly by Governor Brown, is the PResident's conduct of his overall policy abroad.

Speaking of Iran and the hostage problem, Governor Brown says: "Carter's got us into a mess now, and he cannot escape responsibility and the discussion of how we got here in the first place."

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Senator Kennedy says the President's "lurching from crisis to crisis" with no apparent policy -- foreign or domestic.

Iowa Democrats will help determine the winner of this debate at their forthcoming caucuses. But the debate will likely continue into the New Hampshire primary next month and even beyond.

One additional question that remains is: Did Mr. Carter damage himself politically by dropping out of the debate?

Sources in Iowa say those who are most upset by the President's default are Kennedy supporters. who saw this as an opportunity to give their candidate a boost in the polls.

The Carter argument that he should stay on the job in time of crisis appears to been found acceptable by many Iowans -- even though he spends hours each day making phone calls to Iowa to further his campaign there. Thus, Mr. Carter seems tobe "having it both ways" on this particular question.

Meanwhile, a new poll released by Newsweek magazine is dampening hopes in Kennedy camps around the United States -- and quite noticeably in Iowa.

The poll shows that doubts about the propriety of the senator's behavior at Chappaquiddick have risen significantly in the past six months -- with 55 percent of those responding now saying he acted improperly.

The poll also indicates that people who harbor such doubts are much less likely than others to vote for Senator Kennedy.


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