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A Rush to Judgment on Bush?
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 11, 2000

Question: How many points would John McCain have to win by in South Carolina to force George W. Bush out of the race? – Whit Fletcher, Keene, N.H.

Answer: I find it absolutely incredible – and utterly fascinating – that this question is being asked. It seems like only yesterday we were deciding who was going to be in Bush's Cabinet. But his wipeout in New Hampshire has obviously opened up a debate on how strong of a candidate he really is, and questions like this are being asked more and more frequently.

The short answer is that Bush did not raise $68 million just to quit the race in mid-February. This is going to be more of a grueling contest than he anticipated, as McCain is proving to be a very attractive candidate. While South Carolina was always seen as a Bush "firewall" state – designed to correct any aberration that may have occurred in New Hampshire – the feeling is that he can lose it and still be in decent shape to win the nomination. McCain basically had N.H. to himself for much of January while the others were competing in Iowa. His big win there gave him a tremendous boost going into S.C., where Bush's 20-point lead in the polls vanished overnight. So let's say McCain does win S.C. on Feb. 19, and follows with a win in his home state three days later. There's still Michigan to contend with (also on Feb. 22), Virginia on Feb. 29, and then a slew of contests on March 7, where one-on-one campaigning, the kind McCain has excelled in, becomes impractical. That's when the campaign goes from a ground war to an air war, and Bush's bankroll comes into play.

Could McCain, who appeared on the cover of all three major news magazines this week, continue his unlikely surge and pile up wins in the primaries and caucuses? The guess is he won't. What's so wonderful about all this is that no one really knows what's going to happen. Still, even if the N.H. results turn out to be an oddity, it did expose weaknesses in Bush's candidacy. And then the conversation could switch to figuring out who Al Gore, the once sure-to-lose Democrat, will pick for HIS Cabinet.

Question: I understand that unlike the Democrats, some Republican primaries are "winner-take-all." Which of the upcoming primaries, such as South Carolina, Michigan, Arizona, New York, and California, are this type? – Adam C. Brockus, Seattle, Wash.

Answer: Most Republican primaries are "winner take all" – that is, the winner of the primary, no matter by how many votes, captures all the delegates at stake. That is how it works in the upcoming GOP contests in Arizona (Feb. 22), Virginia (Feb. 29) and California (March 7). It's slightly different in states like South Carolina (Feb. 19), Michigan (Feb. 22) and Ohio (March 7). There, the winner in each congressional district wins that district's delegates, and the statewide winner takes all the at-large delegates. Thus, one can win delegates even if he doesn't carry the entire state. It's different in New York (March 7), where they hold a direct election of district delegates on the ballot. In the primaries thus far, New Hampshire (Feb. 1) awarded delegates proportionately, while Delaware (Feb. 8) was winner-take-all. As for the Democrats, they award their delegates proportionately in every state, according to the percentage candidates get in the primaries or caucuses.

For an excellent reference tool on the rules and the path to the party nominations, check out "Race for the Presidency: Winning the 2000 Nomination," a new book by Rhodes Cook. Published by CQ Press, it gives a good history on the past several primary cycles in all the states. You can find more information at Cook's Web site, www.rhodescook.com.

Rhodes Cook was a guest on "Free Media" on Jan. 20
Campaign Calendar: Presidential Primaries

Question: I tend to disagree with your take on Alan Keyes [see Jan. 14 column], although I don't know if it's racism or not. But I do know Jesse Jackson got a ton of coverage when he ran, and he wasn't a "viable candidate" either. – Jamie Cevela, Lafayette, Ind.
In his 1984 and 1988 campaigns, Jackson won nearly 10 million votes. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: When Jackson announced his 1984 candidacy for the presidency, nearly the entire African-American political community became energized. Blacks had been loyal foot soldiers in Democratic ranks for years, but other than a token effort by then-Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) in 1972, no black candidate had ever made a serious bid. Jackson's campaign was aimed at what he called a "rainbow coalition" – blacks, Latinos, the poor. Coming off his role in freeing an American airman who was shot down over Syria, Jackson ran strong in the polls. If by saying Jackson was not a "viable" candidate you mean he didn't have a shot at winning the nomination, you are correct. But black voters responded enthusiastically to his candidacy, and while Jackson certainly won a majority of their votes in the primaries, the real result was unprecedented voter registration among African Americans.

In 1984, Jackson won the Louisiana and D.C. primaries easily, and captured at least 20 percent of the vote in the Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Tennessee, Maryland, North Carolina, and New Jersey primaries. In 1988, he did even better, winning primaries in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia and D.C., and taking at least 20 percent in Vermont, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, Oregon, California, Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico. In both years, he won genuine concessions in the party platform at the convention. There is no indication whatsoever that Keyes is going to command such voter support in his presidential bid.

If people said that Jackson ran because he was black, then Keyes is running despite the fact he is black. While he has referred to the income tax as a "slave" tax, and has expressed his view that he finds the flying of the Confederate flag in South Carolina objectionable, Keyes is not making any direct overture to African-American voters (who for the most part don't vote in Republican primaries anyway). Keyes is making a standard conservative pitch in his quest for votes, focusing less on the Voting Rights Act and more on the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Keyes' 14-percent finish in Iowa was impressive, and every media report said so. But his six percent in N.H. was less so, and unless he scores in double digits in upcoming contests, he is not likely to go any further.

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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