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Daily Editorial

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

one state.

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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