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Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 1999 /5 Tishrei, 5760

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Econophone

Don't rule out
Beatty just yet


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- PATRICK CADDELL WAS THE BRILLIANT YOUNG POLLSTER who guided George McGovern to the Democratic nomination in 1972 and Jimmy Carter all the way to the White House in 1976.

A quarter century later he senses the same undercurrent of voter "alienation" driving the presidential prospects of his longtime friend, famed actor-producer Warren Beatty.

"The people are being told that the two parties have decided," he said of the two probable 2000 candidates, George W. Bush and Al Gore, "and they're saying this isn't enough of a choice. There's an argument that a vacuum exists."

Caddell, 49, blames party insiders for that "vacuum," for collapsing the selection process into a dense pack of March primaries including the blockbuster states of California, Florida, New York and Texas that only a few well-funded candidates can afford to contest.

"This front-loading of the system, a premeditated act by the establishment, is going to backfire," he warned in an interview. "It's a little pre-cooked for people. It tells the American people they're irrelevant to the process."

What sets the early 2000 race apart from those of previous years, Caddell argues, is the speed with which Americans have learned how puny a role they may get to play in picking the next president. He says people are dismayed at the prospect of a two-candidate contest Republican George W. Bush vs. Democrat Al Gore they had no hand in creating.

"We don't have to accept this," Caddell hears voters saying this September. "We don't have to buy this."

Whether or not Beatty, who master-crafted such epics as "Bonnie and Clyde," "Reds" and "Heaven Can Wait," plus his more recent electoral send-up "Bulworth," mounts a full-fledged campaign for the Democratic nomination next summer, the man who helped steer both McGovern and Carter sees a similar opening this autumn.

Caddell argues that (1) the vice president's all-out defense of President Clinton last year lays him open to challenge, and (2) Bill Bradley's 18 years as an uncomplaining Capitol Hill insider makes the former New Jersey lawmaker an unlikely claimant to the outsider's role.

Caddell knows from experience, moreover, how quickly such front-running candidacies can be toppled. At the tender age of 21, barely out of Harvard, he spotted anti-Vietnam War crusader George McGovern's chance to knock off Edmund Muskie, then a daunting favorite to wrap up the Democratic nomination early.

"There were a great number of people who were not happy with the Muskie choice blue-collar people," Caddell recalls. "I knew McGovern could speak to the liberal elite, but also to the factory workers." He remembers what a "shocker" it was for the country to wake up after the New Hampshire primary that year and realize how well McGovern had done.

Four years later Caddell saw a Georgia farmer-turned-politician prepared to plow the same fertile ground voters' growing sense of distance from the political establishment.

"When I first sat down with Jimmy Carter, he'd just spent two years campaigning in people's homes. He was the only one who understood the alienation from Watergate," Caddell said.

"People don't understand what that gave him, those two years of staying and living in people's homes. He had a feel for the country."

Starting in the early 1980s, the pollster who pioneered the numbers for McGovern and Carter saw professionals of both parties erect barriers to such long-shot challenges. He watched insurgents such as Gary Hart, Joe Biden and Jerry Brown fall one after another to better-financed candidates who were more amenable to the insider's game.

Today, an older, wiser Patrick Caddell, having gotten involved in the movie business himself, worries that Beatty, whom he met in that early, ever-hopeful '72 McGovern campaign, may suffer a similar fate should he choose to enter today's big-casino politics: getting beaten by the house.

"I have very mixed emotions," said Caddell.

Though he fears the personal risks to his friend, Caddell wonders who else can fill the void in year 2000 politics: a Democrat untainted by either the big-money politics or the Clinton scandals themselves.

"The Republicans were disastrous in presenting it," he says of the still-smoldering impeachment fight. "But if you're saying with great enthusiasm that it's all right to lie if you vote right on abortion, that character has nothing to do with the White House, the Democratic Party is going to reap the whirlwind."



JWR contributor Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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