Gore's Mating Ritual

By Meyerson, Harold | The American Prospect, July 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Gore's Mating Ritual


Meyerson, Harold, The American Prospect


THE ASTONISHING SHORTAGE OF PLAUSIBLE DEMOCRATIC RUNNING MATES

To those of you who've feeling socially inadequate because your mind goes blank whenever the subject of Who Should Be Al Gore's Running Mate comes up at barbecues or on white-water rafting trips: relax. The American Prospect's poll of the experts conducted in late June has uncovered a similar dearth of suggestions among the Democrats' keenest thinkers, not to mention an objective dearth of suitable vice presidential material.

Consider this sample of responses from the party's ablest strategists:

From one of the Democrats' most respected consultants: "I don't think we've got anybody who it makes political sense to put on the ticket."

From one of Washington's most highly regarded pollsters, asked about the merits of the Democrats' heavyweights: "Who are the Democratic heavyweights?"

From one of the most politically savvy members of the House: "If you want a woman--who? Kathleen Kennedy Townsend? Come on."

From a veteran operative of Democratic cause groups, asked who would help Gore: "Boy, who helps Gore?"

And finally, from one of the canniest operatives in the union movement, also asked who would help Gore: Long pause. Then, "This is hard."

If it demonstrates nothing else, this year's quadrennial guessing game has confirmed that the Democrats are still reeling from 1994's election day blowout. In a word, the party has no bench. There are a scant 22 Democratic governors, and only one of them--California's Gray Davis--from a large state. (For any number of reasons, Davis is out of the question as number-two timber: He is just midway through his second year as governor; California should come down in the Gore column, anyway; a Gore-Davis ticket would only drive more California liberals into Ralph Nader's waiting arms; and while running mates are sometimes selected because they reinforce some general characteristic of the presidential nominee, the characteristics of Gore that Davis reinforces are dullness and an almost preternatural absence of spontaneity.)

Nor is the Democrats' benchlessness confined to the statehouses. A number of historically Democratic city halls have been controlled by Republicans for the past decade. And in Congress, the Democrats have passed the years since 1994 neither in the majority nor, generally, in opposition to the president. They have few legislative achievements to point to or investigations of official misconduct to tout. Aside from Richard Gephardt's impeachment-morning eloquence, is there anything that a congressional Democrat has said or done in the past six years that has registered even slightly in public consciousness?

A BALANCING ACT

The paucity of Gore's options is particularly glaring in the Jersey City-to-Kansas City belt, the half-dozen mid-Atlantic and industrial midwestern states that are likely to determine the outcome of the election. Where George W. Bush can comparison shop among such GOP luminaries as Christine Todd Whitman, Tom Ridge, John Engler, Tommy Thompson, George Voinovich, John Kasich, and, until recently, John Danforth, Gore's options for a rustbelt running mate are likely confined to two first-term senators: Dick Durbin and Evan Bayh.

But Gore's vice presidential dilemma stretches beyond the Midwest. Unlike Bush, Gore still has to be concerned about locking down his base. In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, Gore was drawing the support of a scant 70 percent of Democrats, while Bush enjoyed the backing of 90 percent of Republicans. At the same time, Bush had a nearly two-to-one lead among independents.

Which is to say, Bush can choose a centrist running mate without fear of alienating his activists, but Gore faces a more delicate balancing act. For Bush a key question is whether Republican true believers will forgive him for picking a perfunctorily pro-choice running mate like Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, though this is not likely a question that keeps Bush awake at night. …

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