That Time Al Gore Blocked Traffic to Win an Election; Or, Why Christie's Scandal Matters

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 8 2014 12:57 PM

That Time Al Gore Blocked Traffic to Win an Election; Or, Why Christie's Scandal Matters

Stop in the name of my ambition.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

In his memoirs, former Al Gore/John Kerry campaign manager Bob Shrum shared a secret tale from the 2000 New Hampshire primary. The vice president's lead had been slipping in the hours before Election Day. On the day itself, Tim Russert called Shrum to share/cheer about exit polls showing Bill Bradley heading to an upset win. Shrum consulted with his turnout guru.

Michael Whouley came up with a last-ditch scheme: Send Gore into areas of southern New Hampshire where there was a lot of Bradley support among upscale voters and commuters who worked across the border in Massachusetts. Many of them cast their ballots late in the day after driving home. Gore's motorcade -- candidate, press, Secret Service, and police -- could snarl traffic and keep some of the commuters from ever getting to their polling places or even trying to. We were perpared to try anything. But we didn't share the rationale with Gore; we just sent him on his way.
Soon Wholey heard from an irate vice president. He was causuing a massive traffic jam and it was time to call off this last-minute foray. Whouley was reluctant to tell him the truth, instead explaining that we had to fight for every last vote. But voters, Gore snapped, were having trouble getting to the polls. Whouley cleared his throat: "But sir, they're mostly Bradley voters." He didn't need to say anything more. Gore got the point and continued on, although there wasn't enough time to go on to the last stop Whouley had planned. The traffic was just impossible.

This never became a huge scandal, for one big and one small reason. Big reason: Gore had already lost the presidency. Who cared how he won a primary on the way to Florida? Small reason: There wasn't exactly a pattern of Gore committing such crimes against democracy.

So, back to the Chris Christie bridge scandal. People forget this, but on the way to his narrow 2009 win, Christie had to get past stories about his alleged politicization of the U.S. Attorney's Office. The most memorable ad run against him accused him of "throwing his weight around" to get a speeding ticket dismissed; Christie attacked the ad for implicitly mocking his girth. (Honestly, it wasn't that implicit, with a long slow-mo shot of the hefty attorney in a tight white dress shirt.) Throughout the 2013 re-elect, reporters (especially the NYT's Kate Zernike) collected and published stories of Christie going overboard on the shaming of critics, but Christie was coasting, so the stories didn't get much national pickup.

It's 2014, though. The old stories are no longer "old"—they are part of the Media Narrative, that magic gossamer that trails every potential president.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?


Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 20 2014 3:40 PM Keeping It in the Family Why are so many of the world’s oldest companies in Japan?
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 4:42 PM An Oral History of A Nightmare on Elm Street
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 10:23 AM Where I Was Wrong About the Royals I underestimated the value of building a team that’s just barely better than mediocre.