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    Flunking Out of the Electoral College

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, October 15, 1999

    In the Oct. 8 column, a question referred to the Electoral College meeting in Washington after the presidential election to officially declare the winner of the presidential election. I never corrected the premise of the question and was promptly (and rightfully) hammered by Jason Snyder of Louisville, Ky.; Willy Jay of Churchville, Md.; and Matt Pinkus of Silver Spring, Md. Here’s an excerpt from Matt’s e-mail:

    "The Electoral College never meets in Washington or anywhere else. The electors meet in their individual states to cast their votes. The vote is announced to Congress at a meeting in the House chamber, not just to the Senate; the Speaker and Vice President sit on the dais, as in a joint session, but the Vice President has the gavel and presides."

    Question: Where do you get off claiming that the "economy was in tatters in 1992," as you do in your Sept. 17 column? This is not supported at all by fact (observe the unemployment, GDP, inflation figures from the time). Such misconceptions have already skewed one election. Why present this propaganda in your normally thoughtful column? – Ryan Lambert, Austin, Texas

    Answer: "In tatters" is debatable, but there is no question that the economy was sputtering in the fall of 1991. Economic growth was stagnant, and some parts of the country were perceived to be in a recession. For example, in the politically pivotal state of New Hampshire, banks were failing and people were losing their homes and businesses at an alarming rate. The Fed was forced to slash key interest rates to a 27-year low. Unemployment increased to 6.8 percent. This should not be dismissed as mere "propaganda." In an October 1991 consumer confidence poll conducted by ABC News, people were asked to rate the economic climate on a scale of between "plus 100" (the most favorable) to "minus 100." Men interviewed rated the economy at minus 35, women at minus 51.

    Even if the anxiety over the economy was exaggerated – and even if the numbers didn't warrant such fears – the perception was that Bush had no economic game plan and was drifting. In this sense, James Carville was right; many voters believed that it was all about the economy. And they added Bush to the list of the unemployed.

    Question: Your Aug. 6 column discussed governors who appointed themselves to the Senate, or more specifically, resigned and were appointed by their lieutenant governors. You left out Kentucky's Wendell Ford. In 1974, Gov. Ford won a Senate seat, defeating GOP incumbent Marlow Cook. Cook gracefully resigned his seat early to give Ford an advantage in seniority; Ford then resigned the governorship on Dec. 28, 1974, and was appointed to the Senate by his lieutenant governor, Julian Carroll. – Jason Snyder, Louisville, Ky.

    Answer: My original list focused on governors who succeeded senators who died in office or, in the case of Walter Mondale, were elected vice president. You're right, though; Cook's early resignation allowed Ford to be sworn in early and gain extra seniority. Cook's gracious move is hardly the historical norm, even among candidates of the same party. For instance, when Arkansas Gov. Dale Bumpers defeated Sen. J.William Fulbright in the 1974 Democratic primary, Fulbright stayed in office until the bitter end. By refusing to leave early, he kept Bumpers from getting a leg up on seniority.

    Question: In the Oct. 1 column regarding Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidates from the West, you should add William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska. Westerners believed he represented them, particularly in contrast to "Mark Hanna's McKinley, his slave, his echo, his suit of clothes." – John Milne, Concord, N.H.

    Answer: You're right. If Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn and Lloyd Bentsen, all from Texas, as well as George McGovern, from South Dakota, can be listed as "Westerners," then there's no geographic reason to exclude Nebraska's Bryan, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1896, 1900 and 1908.

    Question: There is a small mistake in your answer to the Spiro Agnew question in the Oct. 1 column. George Wallace won 43 percent of the vote in the 1968 Democratic primary, not "two years before 1966," as you stated. The primary – Tuesday, May 16, I think – came the day after Wallace was shot at the Laurel Shopping Center, in Laurel, Md. A Laurel resident, I was in the crowd, elbow to elbow with [Arthur] Bremer, but had moved a little away before the speech ended and the shots rang out. – David Crescenzo, Chapel Hill, N.C.

    Button
    Ind. Gov. Welsh was one of three LBJ stand-ins challenged by Wallace in 1964. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: You are confusing Wallace's different presidential bids. I referred to the first time he ran, when he sought the Democratic nomination in 1964. That year he faced stand-ins for President Johnson, who refused to personally campaign in any of the primaries. Wallace won 34 percent of the vote against Gov. John Reynolds in Wisconsin, 30 percent against Gov. Matthew Welsh in Indiana, and an astounding 43 percent against Sen. Daniel Brewster in Maryland. But LBJ was a shoo-in for the nomination, and Wallace withdrew from the race prior to the Democratic convention.

    In 1968, no longer the governor, he decided to run for president as an independent candidate. He appeared on the ballot in all 50 states, five of which he carried: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Nationally he won 9,906,000 votes (13.5 percent of the total).

    After regaining the Alabama governorship in 1970, Wallace decided to again seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. In his first primary, in Florida, he won a stunning victory, capturing nearly 42 percent of the vote and swamping the second-place finisher, Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), by a 2 ½-to-1 margin. Wisconsin was Wallace's second target. Aided by GOP crossover votes, he finished a strong second to George McGovern. After finishing second in Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia, fourth in Massachusetts, third in Nebraska, and winning in Tennessee and North Carolina, he prepared for the May 16 primaries in Maryland and Michigan. On May 15, 1972, while campaigning at the shopping center in Laurel, Md., Wallace was shot and seriously wounded by Arthur Bremer, a 21-year-old white male from Milwaukee. It left Wallace paralyzed and in severe pain for the rest of his life. A day after the shooting, the Alabama governor won both primaries at stake: 39 percent of the vote in Maryland and an incredible 51 percent in Michigan.

    Confined to a wheelchair, Wallace ran again in 1976. But a politically unknown former Georgia governor by the name of Jimmy Carter ran as a Southern alternative to Wallace and carried every Southern primary – including the crucial state of Florida, which Carter portrayed as a showdown against Wallace. Never again was the Alabaman a factor in the presidential primaries.

    Question: In your Oct. 1 column, you wrote, "On Oct. 10, 1973, Agnew pled 'no contest' to charges of tax evasion and resigned his office." Far be it from me, a lifelong "radical liberal," to come to the late Mr. Agnew's defense, but I believe it's important to note that he resigned his office first, then entered his plea – his reasoning supposedly being that in this way history would not have to record that a felon occupied the vice presidency. – Eric Newman, Hackensack, N.J.

    Answer: Your order of the sequence of events is correct. I plead nolo contendere.

    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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