Magazine article Insight on the News

The Fine Art of Betting on the Presidential Race

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Fine Art of Betting on the Presidential Race

Article excerpt

Given the weaknesses of the Democratic incumbent, you might think there would be more Republican presidential aspirants than actual New Hampshirites bumping into one another when the snow starts melting in the Granite State. That's not exactly right, however. Some of the highest-profile Republicans already have announced they are sitting out 1996. Still, the field is pretty rich.

As it happens, in 1989 I made the political prediction of my life. George Bush had just been inaugurated, so -- because I live in politically obsessed Washington - the conversation naturally turned to who the Democrats would nominate in 1992. (It's never too early. In fact, I have an idea or two about who the Republicans will nominate in 2004.

In 1989, I said the nominee would have to be someone who could run credibly as a real outsider to Washington -- therefore, a governor.

The liberal wing of the party had just been whipped, drawn and quartered, despite the efforts of 1988 nominee Michael "Tank Commando" Dukakis to focus the election on the issue of "competence" rather than "ideology." Therefore, the 1992 nominee would have to have solid centrist credentials.

Politically, the Democrats were in a bind with the purported emergence of a GOP "electoral lock" on the White House. One of the numbers in the combination to that so-called lock (which Clinton campaign guru James Carville correctly described his party as having "picked," not smashed) was the electoral votes of the South, viewed as Republican territory. A De nominee had to run plausibly in the South in order to have a prayer. Therefore, the 1992 nominee would have to be a Southerner.

Thus, I predicted Bill Clinton, a Democratic Southern governor who was a cofounder of the Democratic Leadership Council, the leading vehicle for the party "centrist" bloc (perhaps better understood as the "We're not liberal, you have our word" bloc).

Tragically, I didn't write up this analysis and was thus ineligible for the George F. Will Award for Distinction in Punditry Oh well.

Paradoxically, it's easier to make a prediction four or more years out than closer to the event, when you start losing the forest for the trees. By early 1991, the twin questions on the minds of the opinion professionals were: Will Mario Cuomo run? And: Given George Bush's 90 percent-plus approval rating, was it really worth the bother to have an election in 1992? Why not spare everybody the trouble and expense?

Clinton didn't see it that way. And even if, as I think, he got in the race merely to pave the way for what he took to be his main chance in 1996, his current Pennsylvania Avenue address exemplifies the proposition, "Who dares wins. …

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