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Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2000 /13 Adar I, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Gore would hit McCain's record -- BACKERS OF VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE think Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would be a tougher foe than Texas Gov. George Bush (R) this fall -- but a beatable one if Gore can make the election a contest about issues rather than character.

McCain has the advantage over both Bush and Gore of being able to attract independent voters based on his history as a war hero and his image as a straight-talking reformer.

Gore, however, would try to expose McCain's rigorously conservative voting record, especially on social issues, and reduce McCain's "character" advantage by reviving the Keating Five scandal and questioning the Arizonan's temperament.

"McCain is the Democrats' worst nightmare," says one Democratic lobbyist and fund-raiser. "Gore could beat Bush like a rented mule in a debate, but not McCain."

Gore supporters, reasonably confident their man will win the Democratic nomination, are beginning to confront the possibility that Gore will face McCain, not Bush, in the general election. They admit McCain will be formidable -- but not unbeatable.

McCain's great advantage is his potential ability to attract non-Republicans to his side. The latest national Zogby poll shows McCain beating Gore nationally by 50 to 38 percent. McCain wins 49 to 35 percent among independents and even attracts 23 percent of Democrats.

"There are many contrasts that would work in McCain's favor," says Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank of the pro-Gore Democratic Leadership Council.

He listed "McCain's campaign finance record versus the scandals of the Clinton years, his jocular openness versus Gore's more wooden style and his ability to stand independent and apart from the usual powerful interest groups."

Marshall added, "McCain also taps into the free-floating anti-politics feeling among young people -- the Jesse Ventura phenomenon. His Internet fund raising is incredible. He's getting people who are... looking for a heroic figure."

But Marshall and others think McCain also has lots of liabilities -- especially his lack of focus on domestic issues, a voting record that Gore could characterize as "right wing" and a temperament that Marshall said could look "unstable, impulsive or ungovernable."

Gore would not make the mistake, attributed to some Republican senators, of ascribing McCain's temperament to his time in a Vietnamese prison.

Instead, Marshall said, "McCain has all the endearing qualities of a bad boy, a rapscallion. The flip side is that he's not someone who has strong self-discipline. He could give way to his impulses. In a president, you want an even temperament."

The fattest target Gore supporters see in McCain is his congressional voting and speaking record, which includes support for banning abortion, opposition to gun control and minimum wage hikes, and backing for much of the 1995 "Gingrich agenda" of budget cuts for Medicare and the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to documents compiled by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, McCain also voted to end federal child health guarantees in 1995 and against hiring 100,000 new teachers and police in 1994 and 1999. He also voted to curtail enforcement of toxic waste, clean water and food safety laws.

"A lot of moderates and liberals who are working themselves up over McCain have only a limited conception of where his center of gravity is," says former Clinton White House aide Bill Galston. "Gore will be well-positioned to fight for the center and raise questions about McCain's believability, consistency and predictability.

"Gore can point to the record and say, `If this is the real John McCain, is this the president you want?' Or, even more damaging, `Who is the real John McCain?'"

"Especially for a campaign premised as McCain's is on authenticity, believability and trust, if you confront people with important new information, you raise questions about whether he really is what people think he is," Galston said.

Another New Democrat, DLC President Al From thinks, "If this is an issues campaign, Gore is in good shape."

Supporters say Gore has the "Clinton economy" going for him and has well-developed positions on nearly every issue, while McCain is "hollow" on most domestic policy.

On ethics, McCain often says he would "beat Al Gore like a drum" over 1996 Democratic fund-raising abuses, but Gore supporters say that "unless the Keating Five become the Keating Four, he's going to be vulnerable on that issue."

Along with four other senators, McCain was investigated in 1990 and 1991 for intervening with savings and loan regulators on behalf of campaign contributor Charles Keating. McCain admits error -- as Gore does with his 1996 Buddhist temple fund raiser.

Although the Bush-McCain race is getting rougher, Gore supporters think a Gore-McCain race would be more so. "Bush doesn't know how to tear the bark off," said one. "Gore does."

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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