Aug. 7, 2000
Why this election will go down to the wire
Barring any major unforeseen surprises from either the
Bush or Gore camps between now and November, we predict this presidential
election is going to be close – decided by perhaps a difference of only
Perhaps some Republicans, fresh from their Philly “feel-good”
convention, truly believe Texas Gov. George W. Bush has already locked this
thing up with his apparent big lead in the polls. They better think again.
After Vice President Al Gore selects his running mate Tuesday,
then after the Democrats get their four days of tube time live from L.A.
next week, watch those poll numbers tighten back up.
Soon will come Labor Day, and the final two months of the
campaign. Three presidential debates will follow, and we can expect those
to also have an impact, perhaps more so than in a number of previous presidential
Why will this election be close? The polls show a lot of
people in both parties are still undecided.
That’s the key. These two candidates are still busy defining
themselves, and both are staying close to the political center, avoiding
the hazards of the “left” and “right.” Most folks still
haven’t quite figured either of them out. So the candidates have to win
it on their own: No amount of image making, polling or endorsements will
do it, nor will it turn on the vice presidential selections.
Let’s analyze the scenario, and compare it to other more
recent presidential elections.
For starters, the incumbent isn’t running. This is significant,
because the last two presidents who were consistently popular with a majority
of the people, Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton, were
easily re-elected in 1984 and 1996 respectively, and served the maximum
allowed under our Constitution – eight years.
When an incumbent isn’t consistently popular or is perceived
as having failed to do his job as well as Americans expect, U.S. voters
won’t hesitate to toss him – there is no “incumbency aura” if
you don’t get the job done. Two most recent cases in point – Democrat Jimmy
Carter in 1980 and Republican George Bush, dad of W., in 1992.
Go back to 1960. The incumbent vice president, Richard
Nixon, was nominated after serving eight years under popular two-term Republican
Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon ended up losing a squeaker (in fact, had one state
gone the other way, Nixon would have won) to charismatic young Sen. John
F. Kennedy. Significantly, that year we were not at war and the economy
was in good shape.
The 1960 scene is similar to this year, with an eight-year
incumbent vice president nominated to oppose an upstart, fresh face in a
year when we are not at war and the economy is not just in good shape, but
arguably in the best shape it’s been in American history.
What about some other clues? One thing a lot of people
don’t know yet is that Gore is brainy – very brainy, in fact. It may be
all but forgotten, but Gore pretty much knocked out Dan Quayle in the vice
presidential debate of 1992, and also managed to solidly whip Bob Dole’s
VP candidate Jack Kemp in 1996.
Expect Gore to easily out-debate the low-wattage Bush.
You read it here first.
But so what? So what indeed? Americans don’t particularly
care who’s the smarter candidate, and nice guys do finish first, even nice
guys who aren’t particularly brainy (Reagan over Carter in 1980 would be
a prime example). Americans like candidates who are warm, engaging, humorous
and not shrill – which may give Bush an edge over the data-filled but wooden
Then there are the issues. If issues were all that mattered,
you’d think Gore would have this election in the bag. Wrong. It’s Clinton,
not Gore, who gets all the credit for the peace and prosperity. Gore has
to build and sell his own vision, and must successfully define his own issues,
and make those issues matter to the majority if he’s to win.
If he can, we will see this election go down to the wire.
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