Does the Bell Toll for Thee, Al?

Oct. 23 2000 12:54 AM

Does the Bell Toll for Thee, Al?

It's 16 days before the presidential election. Can you guess what Issue 1 is?

The pundits sense that George W. Bush has turned a corner. For several weeks polls showed Bush with a 1- or 2-point lead--i.e., within the margin of error. Now the polls give Bush a 5- to 7- (in one case 10-) point lead. Bob Novak (CNN's Capital Gang) and pollster John Zogby (CBS's Face the Nation) note that Al Gore is losing his grip on crucial states like Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, all of which Michael Dukakis carried in 1988. He's even losing ground in Illinois and New Jersey (which for 40 years has sided with the winning candidate). (Click here for a map of the '88 Electoral College, and here for a 2000 map, which also features '96 and '92 results.)

What happened to Gore? Nearly all pundits blame the first and third debates, in which Gore appeared arrogant and insincere. Pollster Bill Schneider (CNN's Late Edition) says Gore's performance didn't turn off undecided voters so much as energize the GOP base, which now dislikes Gore more than ever. Cokie Roberts (ABC's This Week) argues that Bush isn't defeating Gore, Gore is defeating Gore: While Bush's approval ratings have remained constant, Gore's have yo-yoed. Margaret Carlson (CG), The McLaughlin Group   pundits, and the TW commentators single out Gore's repeated charge during the final debate that Bush doesn't support the "Dingell/Norwood bill"--Clinton, they argue, would never have smothered such a popular proposal (the bill supports "patients' rights") with a Beltway phrase that is meaningless to most voters. John McLaughlin (TMG) argues that Gore's decline stems not just from the debates but from stock market fluctuations, high gas prices, and Middle East violence.

What will Gore do to fight back? The commentariat predicts that Gore will rely on two themes: 1) Bush is too inexperienced to handle the presidency; and 2) Bush will risk your Social Security checks by investing them in the stock market. George F. Will (TW) says that Gore's Social Security scare won't work like it did for President Clinton in '96 because more Americans own stock (and therefore trust the market more).

What should Gore do to fight back? Many pundits say Gore should enlist his boss in the campaign. For one thing, note Al Hunt (CG) and Juan Williams ( Fox News Sunday), Clinton can rally the Democratic base--which Gore sorely needs to counter the newly energized GOP base. George F. Will notes that Clinton excels at rallying blacks, and George Stephanopoulos (TW) says that Clinton can help Gore win Arkansas (which is still a tossup state). Brit Hume (FNS) disagrees with this strategy, arguing that Clinton will only drive away undecided voters. (Capital Gang's Mark Shields, however, claims that 71 percent of undecided voters approve of Clinton.) Steve Roberts (LE) says that Gore should keep using Ronald Reagan's famous line, "Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?"

Last Words

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