A Photo Finish in Campaign 2000

By Hickey, Jennifer G. | Insight on the News, November 27, 2000 | Go to article overview

A Photo Finish in Campaign 2000


Hickey, Jennifer G., Insight on the News


Vice President Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush continued their frenetic march across the nation, delivering barbs and trading jabs in the final moments of the presidential race.

In the waning days of campaign 2000, the dizzying national poll numbers exhibited as much certainty of direction as a quarterback in the arms of Chicago Bears Hall of Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus. The confusion of the surveys was less attributable to the candidates delivering Butkus-like hits than to the fact that in the final stretch many of the polls were buried like a fumble of confusion on the 1-yard line. Heck, a trained monkey might be better equipped to predict the election.

But if Hank the Waxahachie monkey was the primate in question, you might have wanted to listen to his opinions. Hank recently bested the members of the football pool on Mark Davis' radio program in Dallas with a record of 11-4, including one collegiate game. For good measure, Hank also added his two banana-stained cents to the presidential election -- picking George W. Bush.

At least Hank made a selection, which is more than could be said at the end for those in the media who continued subsisting to the last on the weak reeds of tracking polls. Apparently drunk on these sudsy liquid confections, some in the media seemed to have lost historical context. While this was likely to be a down-to-the-wire race, was it ever likely to be the closest election since 19507 A Nov. 2 Washington Post story advised concerning its latest poll, "American voters remain narrowly divided in their choice for president and unusually volatile." President Carter was reported as leading Ronald Reagan 43 to 39 percent, with John Anderson at 7 percent. Of course, that was Nov. 2, 1980.

Interestingly, the article noted "a striking difference between men and women voters this year" with women favoring Carter 45 to 35 percent. Certainly the disparity could not have been evidence of the newly discovered "gender gap"! The gender gap was not reported to play as large a role in 2000 as it did in 1980, apparently because Bush was presented as merely stupid instead of as a frothing rapine beast intent on gnawing away every woman's rights.

But the constant theme of 1980 resurfaced this year, particularly as Gore's fears (regardless of whether they bear on reality) became palpable. In easily understood terms, it is the "boob factor." When it became evident in 1980 that Reagan was a formidable challenger to Carter, the slings and arrows began flying. The Left poked its head out of the Ivory Tower and scornfully dismissed the California governor as an intellectual lightweight bent on nuking the "commies." It worked less effectively in 1984 than it did in 1980, and perhaps less effectively in 2000.

With the vice president unable to energize his base, the Democrats began a campaign to dumb down Dubya. A mere whisper to begin, the volume was raised as the debates grew closer and Bush remained in contention. And the dumb-beat pounded louder and louder with Gore finally picking up the drumsticks himself in a bullying TV ad that concluded, "Is he ready to lead America?" Interestingly, one of the reasons Gore was selected as Clinton's running mate in 1992 was to get a Washington insider to reassure voters asking that same question about Clinton.

One of the greater ironies of this cycle is that Gore's willingness to vouch for Clinton -- whose bad conduct in the Oval Office no doubt will haunt Gore for the rest of his life -- was the primary reason the wooden vice president was in a position to get the Democratic nomination for president. Although a mild economic recession and some screwball internal Republican politics cannot be underplayed as reasons for the initial Clinton/Gore win, Clinton's ease in the new media-driven campaign style was a major factor in both the 1992 and 1996 elections.

In an Oct. 26 Newsweek article headlined "The Bill Clinton Show" the "Anonymous" Joe Klein wrote, "[Clinton's] breakthrough insight is that power resides with the host, not the guest. …

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