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 Slate political reporter. 



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.