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Iowa and N.H.: Beginnings or Endings?
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 14, 2000

Question: In the 1996 GOP primary in New Hampshire, Pat Buchanan won with 27 percent, Bob Dole had 26 percent, and Lamar Alexander came in third with 23 percent. According to political lore, if Alexander had edged out Dole for second place, Dole would have dropped out and Alexander, as the "reasonable" alternative to Buchanan, would have become the party's nominee. Now, in the 2000 campaign, there has been talk of whether George W. Bush could survive a second-place finish in New Hampshire, behind John McCain. Could Bush survive a third-place finish there, behind both McCain and Steve Forbes? – Frank Ferrari, Mesa, Ariz.

Answer: He could, and probably would, given the fact that Bush is in excellent shape in the rest of the country. Don't forget, his father finished third in the 1988 Iowa caucuses and still had a comparatively easy run to the nomination. Also, after Dole lost New Hampshire in 1996, he went on to lose primaries within the next week in Delaware and Arizona as well, both to Forbes. But that was the last primary Dole lost, cruising to an easy capture of the nomination that year.

Gov. Bush's problems in New Hampshire stem from the fact that he was slow to campaign in the state, while it was all McCain all the time, his "Straight Talk Express" bus tour, adoring reporters in tow. The feeling is that Bush has been narrowing the gap in recent days. But whether or not he wins the Granite State primary on Feb. 1, Bush then heads to more friendly territory, states like South Carolina, Michigan and Virginia, where the party establishment has a better record in getting its candidate elected.

You also asked about a third-place Bush finish in N.H. Of course, a third-place finish would lead to many raised eyebrows around the country, followed by a ton of doom-saying newspaper headlines. Right now, however, such a finish seems like a long shot. While Forbes has rid himself of much, but certainly not all, of the awkwardness he displayed as a candidate in 1996, he has yet to prove that he is capable of such a strong finish. Still, New Hampshire voters are notorious for making their choices late in the race, and a solid showing by Forbes in the Iowa caucuses could alter the landscape in the nation's first primary eight days later. But I don't see it happening.

Keyes: Victim of racism, or a lack of voter interest? (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Question: When is The Post planning to give Alan Keyes more coverage? I believe your newspaper has a racial discrimination problem in that you don't want to show that a highly respected and educated professional, who happens to be black, would (a) be a Republican, and (b) run for president of the United States. – Michael Higgins, Falls Church, Va.

Answer: Some argue that Keyes has gotten more coverage over his debate performances than his standing in the polls deserves. What I've long found fascinating about him is that in the dozens of radio and TV talk-shows I've been on since 1996, invariably there will be multiple calls from people who find Keyes the most exciting, the most charismatic, the most appealing of all the candidates. But then come the results of the primaries. Three percent of the vote in New Hampshire in 1996. One percent in Arizona. Two percent in South Carolina. It will ultimately be voters, not pundits, who decide Keyes' future. But his track record indicates that he has yet to show he can attract votes, and one doesn't necessarily have to have a "racial discrimination problem" to notice that.

Dr. Susan Fillippeli, an associate professor of communications at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., goes even further. She writes:

    "When is someone -- anyone -- going to call Alan Keyes' bluff? The man is NOT a good orator. He has a powerful presentation style to be sure, but oratory is to be judged by both content and style, with style always reinforcing the content. Keyes hasn't been successful in any of his campaigns because he hasn't been able to persuade anybody to vote for him. The issue is not racism -- that's a tactic designed to earn Keyes free media coverage. He has gotten more coverage in the last few campaign cycles than anyone who can't move beyond three percent of voter support deserves. On the speaker's platform he is arrogant, belligerent, overly pedantic. Good orators attempt to adapt their messages to their audiences. The whole purpose, after all, is persuasion -- you have to consider the people whose support you are trying to gain. Keyes browbeats and bullies his listeners. It has been so many years since most folks have seen and heard a "fiery" orator, that they confuse Keyes' passion with oratorical excellence."

What's Your Opinion: Join the Debate Discussion

Question: In your response on shilling (see Dec. 17 column on media bias), you wrote that you "would never shill for any candidate, especially one who wants to cut back on campaign spending, a move which, after all, would lead to even fewer campaign buttons." If this is true, why qualify it with the "especially" clause? It just tends to undermine the credibility of the previous statement, implying that in less special circumstances you might consider that action. Think about other examples: I'd never lie on my resume, especially if I know they'll check references. I'd never speed, especially on that section of highway where they always set up radar traps. I'd never cheat on my spouse, especially if I thought word would get back to him/her. Compare that with these: I'd never lie on my resume. I'd never speed. I'd never cheat on my spouse. See what I mean? So why qualify the statement on shilling for candidates? – Carl Rowe, Raleigh, N.C.

Answer: Your point is well taken. I was just trying to add a cute ending, based on button collecting, because clearly the writer was angry with me. I shouldn't have tried to be cute. The point is, I would never shill for any candidate because that violates every journalistic bone in my body. That should have been the final sentence.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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