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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    A Gore Collapse? Or A Bradley Mirage?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, October 8, 1999

    Question: I am a little confused about the present political climate. Six months ago the media was gaga over Vice President Gore and now they are mad about Bill Bradley. Do you think this "love affair" with Bradley will last? Do you think the media is to blame for the flip-flopping? – Don Conrad, Greensboro, N.C.

    Button
    Gore, saddled with "Clinton fatigue," is facing a tougher-
    than-expected foe in Bradley.
    (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Favorable media coverage could be part of the reason for this Bradley surge – journalists no question would prefer a battle for the nomination, not a coronation. But in all fairness, Gore deserves some of the credit.

    Earlier in the contest, Gore looked like the all-but-assured nominee, with the money, organization and contacts – not to mention the complete backing of President Clinton – to make short work of Bradley. But Gore remains largely a wooden campaigner, lacking rhetorical flair and failing to inspire people. His inability to benefit from any of the Clinton administration's successes – such as the booming economy or the drop-off in crime rates – is remarkable, and he suffers for the president's ethical failures. Moving his campaign to Tennessee and stumping without a tie is well and good, but it's hard to say that such symbolism will give him the upper hand in his suddenly competitive battle with Bradley or help narrow his gap in the polls with Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

    There also is a sense that Bradley has had a relatively free ride this past month or so, and the Gore camp is feverishly trying to point out contradictions in Bradley's record. But Gore has been spending money far faster than he expected, leading many Dems to worry that should he ultimately prevail against Bradley he may be too physically and financially drained to compete with likely GOP nominee Bush, who by then will have stockpiled $300 gazillion.

    Question: It is surprising to me that there are only two candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000 – Gore and Bradley. Is this unusual for there to be such a limited field when the presidency is open? – Kees van den Berg, Sliedrecht, The Netherlands

    Answer: The reason for the small Democratic field is the same reason why most leading Dems sat out the 1992 presidential race: the perceived strength of the front-runner. Gore, like President Bush in '92, appeared to have so many advantages that the race looked like it was over before it began. Bush proved that early stratospheric poll numbers are meaningless; it remains to be seen if Gore faces the same fate.

    Compared with the last time the presidency was open, this is indeed a tiny field for the incumbent party. In 1988, when President Ronald Reagan was ineligible to seek a third term, six leading Republicans – Vice President Bush, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Pat Robertson, Pete du Pont and Alexander Haig – sought the brass ring. Bush, with many of the same advantages Gore is thought to have now, stumbled at first but eventually had an easy run to the nomination.

    Question: After every presidential election, the Electoral College meets in Washington to officially declare the election results to Congress. If my facts are straight, the vice president of the United States, acting as president of the Senate, officially announces the results to the Senate. If Al Gore loses the election, he would have to stand before the Senate and announce his own defeat. Was Richard Nixon the last sitting V.P. to have done this? – Bill Tiller

    Answer: Your facts are right and indeed, Nixon was the last one, in January of 1961. Actually, the last sitting vice president to lose the presidential election was not Nixon but Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968. But Humphrey decided not to personally make the agonizing declaration of defeat. That fell to Richard Russell of Georgia, the Senate president pro tem, who presided that day.

    Question: Is it true that during the 1988 presidential campaign, Democratic hopeful Al Gore created the issue about prison furloughs which eventually led to the racist Willie Horton ads used by the Republicans against Michael Dukakis? – Elmore Lockley, Yorktown, Va.

    Button
    Dukakis was hammered on both the Willie Horton and Pledge of Allegiance issues by the Bush camp. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Well, Gore was the first candidate to bring it up. During an April 1988 Democratic debate prior to the New York primary, he asked Dukakis about his state's program of "weekend passes for convicted criminals." Years later Gore insisted he raised the generic issue of furloughs without knowing anything (including the race) about Willie Horton, an African American and convicted murderer who took advantage of a Massachusetts weekend furlough program and raped a woman during Dukakis' tenure as governor. The Bush campaign later exploited the Horton issue to portray Dukakis as soft on crime, and an independent expenditure group went one step further and used Horton's picture in its ads, a tactic many claimed was racist. For the record, the furlough issue was first raised in January of '88 by a reporter for the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune.

    Question: Doesn't the tallest man always win in presidential elections? If so, wouldn't that mean that Bradley will beat Gore and, eventually, George W.? – John Comings, Newton, Mass.

    Answer: Generally the taller candidate does win presidential elections, though there have been exceptions, such as when Gerald Ford, at 6'1", lost to the 5'9" Jimmy Carter in 1976. According to campaign lore, Carter's advisers made sure their candidate would not have to stand next to Ford during the '76 debates. In addition, I've seen references to the 1940 election, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was 6'2", defeated Wendell Willkie, maybe a half-inch taller. The caveat to all this is that Bradley still has to win the Democratic nomination. And height has never been a determining factor in that department, as Mike Dukakis, the 1988 nominee, can attest.

    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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