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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Will Drug Questions Hurt Bush's Chances?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, Sept. 3, 1999

    Question: It seems to me that considering George W. Bush's record-breaking warchest, his near-unanimous support by the super delegates, and handlers smart enough to ensure that they present a well-packaged, sound-bite friendly, low-on-substance candidate who makes no major gaffes between now and when the majority of the delegates are selected, don't you think that the Republican nomination is his, barring any huge character deficiency, e.g., hard drug use in his past, and considering that our present president has lowered that bar so low that even that will not deny him the nomination? – Brian R. St. James, Tokyo, Japan

    Answer: You packed a lot of stuff into that one sentence, but your points are well-taken. It is truly remarkable that in 2000, with Republicans out of power for eight years and President Clinton constitutionally sent out to pasture, the GOP nomination seems to be Bush's for the taking. Go back to 1988 – the last open presidential election. Vice President George Bush was Ronald Reagan's loyal Number Two for eight years, yet there was no coronation. Bush had to scratch and claw his way to the nomination, at least after his loss in the Iowa caucuses and his come-from-behind victory in New Hampshire. This year, theoretically, no one stands head-and-shoulders above the GOP pack. But the polls and the pundits say Bush is unstoppable.

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    It ain't over until it's over, as front-runner Ed Muskie learned in 1972. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    While I can see as well as anyone else how the Republican field looks at this stage, I am reluctant to declare the race over. Remember, they said that about the 1972 Democratic nomination until Ed Muskie imploded on the sidewalk outside the Manchester Union Leader. Similarly, in 1979, House Speaker Tip O'Neill flatly stated that the 1980 Democratic nod was Ted Kennedy's if he wanted it. But something happened along the way during a seemingly innocuous interview with Roger Mudd.

    The cocaine brouhaha that the media latched onto was the first glitch in Gov. Bush's carefully laid path to the nomination. Still, he seems to have put the worst behind him, despite some ill-advised attempts to define his period of non-drug use. Barring some startling revelation, or a slip-up in W.'s cool demeanor, I would say he is headed toward the nomination at next summer's convention in Philadelphia. But we have a long, long way to go.

    Question: So George might have done some blow, so Bill might have smoked some pot. SO WHAT?? Did FDR hoist a few during Prohibition? Did Truman or Eisenhower? Did the press ask, or America care? I'm 49 years old and as to all of the above I must say mea culpa, mea culpa A LOT. I've served my country, paid my taxes and raised my kids. Should I be punished for the mistakes I made 25 or 30 years ago? Is this not called growing up? Making mistakes is what we did, learning from them is what we are. Is this a non-issue or what? – M.J. Bates, Kansas City, Mo.

    Answer: Your question assumes Bush's guilt, which is understandable after his bizarre series of answers on an issue he flatly said he would not address. Two schools of thought are at work here. Some argue that this is a bogus issue to begin with, as no one has accused him of any wrongdoing. No Gennifer Flowers or Paula Jones or Juanita Broaddrick has come forward with any allegations. The media, struggling to get through a very slow August, have decided that this is what America wants to know and pound away until they get a satisfactory answer. But others say that Bush brought this upon himself by saying he has not done any illegal drugs in the past seven years, then expanding the answer the next day to the past 25 years. Does this mean he used cocaine 25 years and one day ago? More importantly, he has yet to reconcile the fact that whatever may have gone on during his wild and irresponsible days, as governor he has pushed through a tough anti-drug policy that throws users in jail. Critics want to know if he is being hypocritical here. In any event, Bush maintains he won't say any more on the matter. Until he does, or until someone comes forward to contradict him, that's how it may stand.

    Question: The only question I have regarding possible drug use by Gov. Bush is that the time frame he is not talking about is the same time frame he was in the National Guard and possibly the Air Force for pilot training. Did he risk others by possibly using drugs when he was in the service? – Gail Henson, Newton, N.C.

    Question: With all the scandal involving George W. Bush, I think it is important to remember he is not alone. Al Gore admitted, on Nov. 7, 1987, that he had used marijuana in the past. I understand the media needs a "yes or no" to the question about Bush's alleged cocaine use, but the real question is about the War on Drugs. Why is it so ineffective? Seventy-eight million Americans have tried illegal drugs at some point in their lives. When will politicians wake up and try to find real answers for the real problem – addiction? The Justice Department has already stated that treatment would be better than incarceration. By the government's own statistics, of those who have tried drugs vs. addicted to drugs, less than 3 percent of those who ever try drugs will become addicted. And yet according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 58.5 percent of all convicts are in jail on narcotics charges. The War on Drugs was great in theory, but in actual practice, it failed, costing billions every year – billions that could be spent on education, housing, medical, etc. – Damon Scott, Fairfax, Va.

    Answer: As these two questions show, whatever the public thinks about a statute of limitations of media inquiries into Bush's past, issues out there still need to be discussed.

    Question: We're experiencing a little divisiveness at work. I maintain that Elizabeth Dole has not formally announced her candidacy for president and is still in the exploratory stage of her campaign. Others at work counter that Dole has crossed the Rubicon and has in fact officially declared. I would be grateful if you could clear up this confusion. – Bill Lucey, Staten Island, N.Y.

    Answer: You are correct. Dole announced her exploratory committee on March 10. Two months ago, in an interview on NBC's "Today" show, Dole said that while she was in the race to stay, she will formally declare her candidacy in the "early fall."

    Question: Since Baltimore is primarily a one-party town, which of the Democrats do you think is going to win the primary, and ultimately the mayor's office? – Matthew Haag, Baltimore, Md.

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    A split among black candidates could give Baltimore its first white mayor since William Donald Schaefer. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: This campaign took forever to get started, mainly because everyone waited to see what Kweisi Mfume would do. Mfume, the popular NAACP president and former U.S. congressman, was the subject of an intense recruiting effort after three-term Mayor Kurt Schmoke decided last December he would retire. Once Mfume finally decided against a run in May, the contest became a free-for-all. Candidates must meet a six-month city residency requirement and pay a $150 filing fee, and 27 of them, including six with arrest records, jumped into the fray. This is the first Baltimore mayoral race since 1971 without an incumbent, and the largest field in 32 years.

    City Council President Lawrence Bell, a longtime Schmoke foe who raised the most money, has been the front-runner for most of the campaign. Nipping at his heels is Carl Stokes, a former councilman and school board member who lost to Bell in 1995. Stokes is vice president of Mid-Atlantic Health Care Inc., and has strong ties with Baltimore's downtown business community. Another strong contender is Mary Conaway, the city's Register of Wills and a Methodist pastor.

    Councilman Martin O'Malley's late entry into the race turned this contest inside out and could make it ugly. Stokes, Bell and Conaway, like Mfume and Schmoke, are black. O'Malley is white. Former mayor (1971-87) William Donald Schaefer, who is white, and state Del. Howard Rawlings, who is black, are backing O'Malley. Race is thus an issue in a city whose population is more than 60 percent African-American, and Rawlings has taken considerable heat for endorsing O'Malley. Many Bell supporters have called pro-O'Malley blacks (such as Rawlings) "traitors" and "so-called pseudo-Negro political leaders." There is also a whispering campaign designed to harm O'Malley, a progressive Democrat who represents a heavily black district. Some black leaders have openly called on the black community to coalesce behind one black candidate, lest O'Malley squeak to victory in the Sept. 14 primary.

    With less than two weeks to go, the contest still looks wide open. Bell probably retains a lead, though much smaller than it had been. O'Malley seems to have gained at Bell's expense, especially with voters repelled by the racial tactics employed by Bell supporters. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if Stokes is the ultimate primary winner; he was endorsed by the Baltimore Sun and seems to have regained his footing after some slippage, when it was revealed that he lied about getting a college degree. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans nine to one, the Democratic nominee will almost assuredly become the next mayor.

    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 1999 Ken Rudin

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