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Is It 2004 Yet?
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Saturday, December 2, 2000

Question: Do you believe that whoever is declared the loser of this election will be in a strong position to run again in 2004? – Peter Foster, Richmond, Va.

Answer: A lot depends on how (and when) we get a concession speech. Some feel that the loser will be the overwhelming election favorite four years from now. The way this theory goes is that the defeated side will claim their guy was robbed. Neither side will accept the other as the "legitimate" winner, and the acrimony will carry the current loser into the White House in 2004. To many Democrats, a blindly partisan secretary of state and a Republican-controlled Florida legislature will be seen as the reason for a Gore loss. To Republicans, a partisan state Supreme Court and endless recounts will have cost Bush the presidency.

There is precedent. Grover Cleveland, in his 1888 bid for reelection, won the popular vote but lost the electoral college and thus the presidency. Seen as the true "people's choice," he came back to win again four years later. The same was the case for Andrew Jackson, who won the popular vote, but not the electoral college, in 1824. Congress gave the election to rival John Quincy Adams (the son of a former president). Jackson came back to oust Adams four years later, and to win a second term in 1832.

There is always a chance that Gore -- and Gore still seems like the most likely loser -- might not be in the same shoes as Cleveland or Jackson. While the public seems to have a fair amount of patience in watching what happens in Bush v. Gore, there is a sense that we may be approaching a time when the calls for the vice president to give it up increase. Just as the Republican Party elders went to Richard Nixon in 1974 and told him his hold on power was futile, perhaps some leading Democrats will give similar advice to Gore. His cause dimmed by defeats in the courts, he could magnanimously call it a day, and then soak in the public's consolation for four years. However, if his insistence that he deserves the victory lasts longer than the public's patience, he could suffer.

That's roughly what happened to Ellen Sauerbrey, the Republican nominee for governor of Maryland in 1994, who lost a very close election to Parris Glendening. She ran a far better campaign than anyone thought. But her lengthy battle to claim victory -- including a surprise and baffling appearance at the National Governor's Conference -- wore thin, and she wound up with the moniker of Ellen Sour Grapes. Voters rejected her bid for redemption four years later.

Left unstated is the question of whether the parties would even want to bring back Gore or Bush four years from now. Some Democrats whisper that given all the advantages the vice president had this year -- not the least of which was a robust economy -- he should have triumphed. If he couldn't win now (not even his home state!), would they want to reward him with another shot in 2004?

Question: If every state awarded its electoral votes the way Maine and Nebraska do -- two votes for winning the state and one for each congressional district carried -- what would have been the outcome this year? – Bill Lawrence, Villa Hills, Ky.

Answer: This was the most popular question of the week, but unfortunately I have yet to see a breakdown of each individual congressional district. However, Robert Richie, the executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, is reported to have said that Bush won about 25 more districts than Gore.

Question: I'm curious, and more than concerned, over the number of votes being identified in Palm Beach as invalid. What are the numbers nationwide? – Jim Wikoff, Greenville, S.C.

Answer: Curtis Gans, the director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, estimates that at least two million ballots (out of 104 million) cast nationwide on Nov. 7 were not included in the official totals. That may or may not be an abnormal number compared to previous years. But in the context of the 2000 presidential election, where the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue seem to rest on the strength of a mere 537-vote lead in Florida, the lost votes seem to be tremendously significant.

Question: If Bush wins, and Maria Cantwell (D) triumphs in her Senate bid in Washington state, the Senate will be split 50-50 and Vice President Cheney will break ties in favor of the GOP. But Cheney wouldn't take office until Jan. 20. The Senate convenes on January 3, when Al Gore is still V.P. Won't Gore break the 50-50 tie and allow the Dems to be the majority party? – Jerry Skurnik, New York, N.Y.

Answer: He probably will. But regardless of whoever becomes the next president, Democratic control of the Senate will be temporary, lasting perhaps just two weeks. If Bush wins, then Cheney becomes vice president and gives the GOP control by a 51-50 vote. If Gore wins, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) gives up his seat to become vice president. Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, a Republican, then names a GOP successor to Lieberman. Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson would be the leading contender. That would give the Republicans a 51-49 edge.

Carnahan's strength at the polls seemed to increase after his death. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Question: On what precedent does the state of Missouri base the decision to allow widow of Gov. Mel Carnahan to serve his new term as senator? Why does she not have to fulfill any of the regular criteria of other candidates? – Mrs. Price, Tampa, Fla.

Answer: Carnahan, the governor of Missouri seeking to oust Sen. John Ashcroft (R), died in a plane crash on Oct. 16. His death came too late for Democrats to replace him on the ballot with another candidate. Acting Gov. Roger Wilson (D), who succeeded Carnahan, had the power to name anyone he wanted in the event of a vacancy, and said that if Mel Carnahan won the race he would appoint the governor's widow Jean in his stead. Strictly speaking, Jean Carnahan was not a candidate in last month's election.

Question: Wasn't there a tie in a U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire in the 1970s? What can you tell me about it? – Chris Conroy, Montclair, N.J.

During the long, contentious recount of disputed ballots in the 1974 N.H. Senate race, Democrats called for "skipping" votes cast for Louie Wyman. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: It was the closest and one of the most controversial Senate elections of the past century. In 1974, veteran GOP Sen. Norris Cotton was retiring. Seeking to succeed him were Rep. Louis Wyman (R), a conservative like Cotton, and John Durkin, a former state insurance commissioner and a liberal.

In any other year Wyman would had been favored. But in 1974 Republicans were on the defensive over Watergate, and Wyman had his own troubles for his role in the Nixon administration's offer of an ambassadorship to Ruth Farkas, a wealthy GOP fundraiser. Durkin kept pounding Wyman for his involvement in the "sale" of the ambassadorship to Farkas, and corruption was a major concern in what was still a very Republican state. Wyman, perhaps a bit overconfident, had the further misfortune to be on the outs with William Loeb, the right-wing publisher of the influential Manchester Union Leader.

Wyman appeared to squeak by with a 355-vote win on Election Day, but Durkin insisted on a recount, which put the Democrat up by ten votes. Wyman then appealed to the State Ballot Law Commission, which was dominated two-to-one by Republicans, and after an examination of 400 disputed ballots, Wyman was certified the winner by two votes. Durkin then appealed to the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, which declared the seat vacant.

For seven months, Wyman and the Republicans pleaded for a new election; Durkin and the majority Democrats in the Senate kept turning them down. Suddenly Durkin switched positions and called for a new vote, which caught Wyman by surprise. Meanwhile, Durkin had quietly been building a solid campaign organization, and when the new election came about in September, he was far more prepared than Wyman. Durkin won the seat comfortably.

Question: Having just read your pre-election column, I am now a "Political Junkie" convert. Great calls on the elections! – Bill Funderburk, Los Angeles, Calif.

Answer: My stats would look even better if Gore won Florida. I picked the vice president to carry the Sunshine State and win the presidency, but I did add the "minor" caveat that it would be Bush if he carried either Florida, Michigan or Pennsylvania. Other states I picked wrong in the presidential race include Arkansas (for Gore) and Oregon and Wisconsin (for Bush). I also thought Bush would get an electoral vote out of Maine, but he did not.

Before my hand gets worn out from patting myself on the back, let me add that I called every Senate race correctly except for Washington state, where Maria Cantwell (D) unseated GOP Sen. Slade Gorton. Every other race that I predicted would result in a change of power was on the mark, with Republicans losing Delaware (Bill Roth), Florida (Connie Mack's open seat), Michigan (Spence Abraham), Minnesota (Rod Grams) and Missouri (John Ashcroft) and Democrats losing Nevada (Richard Bryan's open seat) and Virginia (Chuck Robb).

In the House, I picked the Democrats to gain four seats but they netted only two. Here are the races I called incorrectly (10 out of 435):

California 36, where Rep. Steve Kuykendall (R) was ousted by ex-Rep. Jane Harman (D).
California 49, where Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) was defeated by Susan Davis (D).
Connecticut 2, where Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D) was beaten by Rob Simmons (R).
Florida 8, where Ric Keller (R) held onto the seat being vacated by Bill McCollum (R).
Illinois 10, where Mark Kirk (R) retained the seat of the retiring John Porter (R).
Minnesota 2, where Mark Kennedy (R) surprised Rep. David Minge (D).
New Jersey 12, where Rep. Rush Holt (D) held off the challenge of ex-Rep. Dick Zimmer (R).
North Carolina 11, where Rep. Charles Taylor (R) won reelection over Sam Neill (D).
Washington 2, where John Koster (D) won the seat of the retiring Jack Metcalf (R).
West Virginia 2, where Shelley Moore Capito (R) took the seat of governor winner Bob Wise (D).

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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