A presidential campaign manager's lot is not all high strategy. Al Gore's manager, Donna Brazile, the first black woman ever elevated to such eminence, is this day dickering with some New Hampshire supporters who want to hold their anticipated victory party at a venue she considers too expensive.
She wants a cheaper place so more of the spending permitted under the legal cap for New Hampshire (applicable to candidates accepting federal matching funds) can be used to bombard voters mercilessly with praise of Gore. But of victory over Bill Bradley, there and for the nomination, Gore's people are confident--be they at the low-rent headquarters here, far from the fleshpots of Washington, or in their Washington offices. Their thinking is as follows.
Gore plans to beat Bradley soundly in Iowa, where his lead is large and (so far) steady, then in New Hampshire, with help there from John McCain, who is on fire with the New Hampshire independents Bradley needs. Gore has arrested his slide in New Hampshire by attacking Bradley's plan to abolish Medicaid as part of health care reform. (Real Democrats flinch from abolishing anything not associated with defense, no matter the reason.) Gore's people say Bradley's policy mistakes include his (sensible) refusal (so far) to categorically oppose raising the Social Security retirement age.
But suppose Bradley wins New Hampshire (Feb. 1). There will not be another delegate selection event until March 7, when Bradley will learn how proportional allocation of delegates to the Democratic National Convention prevents a challenger from stampeding the process. For example, in 1984, when California awarded delegates winner-take-all by congressional district, Gary Hart barely beat Walter Mondale there, 43 percent to 40 percent, but won 204 delegates to Mondale's 73. Under today's strict proportional allocation, the delegate distribution would have been 128-124.
Both candidates will have to campaign selectively in the 17 states with primaries on March 7. They include New England states, New York (where proportional allocation will limit Bradley's sweep), and California (Gov. Gray Davis and the well-oiled labor machine are solidly for Gore). And Georgia, where Gov. Roy Barnes, a Gore supporter, recently unsheathed the L-word, lambasting Bradley as a "Northeastern, elitist, old-time liberal," adding: "History has shown time and again, when you run from the Northeastern elite to the left, you get beat."
Barnes's blast is telling because March 14 primaries include Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi. Gore's campaign believes that for their man, but not for Bradley, virtually every state is in play. In some southern primaries blacks may exceed 40 percent of the turnout. Gore will be all over black radio saying "Medicaid" and riding the updraft--yes, updraft--from his association with Clinton.
Bradley can be amusing when he gets down to James Polk in his list of presidents he prefers to Clinton. Black Democrats are not amused. And there will be a lot of black delegates at the Los Angeles convention. Furthermore, although Bradley does well with men (as does his nemesis McCain), most Democratic primary voters are women. The two most important votes Bradley cast in his 18 years in the Senate were against authorizing the use of force in the Gulf War and against the 1996 welfare reform, which repealed a 60-year-old entitlement and imposed a five-year lifetime limit on eligibility for welfare. Bradley does not endorse the time limit.
Senator Gore voted to authorize force. He was vice president when welfare reform was signed by a reluctant president but seems less skeptical than he did then, perhaps because welfare rolls are down about 50 percent. Both of Bradley's votes would burden him in the general election. However, the Democratic nominating electorate adores entitlements and has an anti-military cast, especially in Iowa, where Bradley, in full-court pander, recently called for more defense cuts. So Gore can only attack Bradley's two biggest Senate votes gingerly, if at all. However, Gore has a huge delegate advantage already. About 20 percent of delegates to the convention, approximately 40 percent of the total needed to nominate, will be "super delegates"--Democratic members of Congress, senators, governors and other grandees. Of the 797, about 700 are already known, and Gore's people claim a lock on 500 of them, with another 100 obtainable.
Gore's people say he does not have to win everything to hold the super delegates. They say that in the past two decades, no delegate, super or otherwise, has defected after committing to a candidate. Which is why Brazile says, "Bradley will have to not just beat us but whip us" in the primaries. Which is not likely.