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Jewish World Review August 22, 2000 /21 Menachem-Av 5760

Morton Kondracke

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AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba -- IS THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION about Bill Clinton? Or is it about America's future? It ought to be about the future. But let's face it, it is partly about Clinton. The question is: How much?

Americans have what Republican activist Jeff Bell calls a "bifurcated" view of the outgoing president -- they approve of his job performance, but they deeply disapprove of his character.

The latest bipartisan Battleground survey confirms that by 60 percent to 37 percent, voters approve of the way Clinton is doing his job -- and by 62 percent to 28 percent they disapprove of Clinton "as a person."

Republicans want to tie Vice President Al Gore as closely as possible to Clinton the person, while Gore desperately wants to be linked to the administration's job performance and change the subject from Clinton's personal failings.

At the Republican National Convention, both vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney and presidential nominee George W. Bush endlessly referred to "Clinton-Gore," as though Gore's first name is Clinton.

And they endlessly promised that they would "restore honor and dignity" to the White House. Bush denied he was making any reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal in doing so. Everyone knew he was being disingenuous -- nearly Clintonesque.

No one believes for a second that Gore would behave as Clinton did in the Lewinsky case -- being unfaithful to his wife with a White House intern and lying about it both publicly and under oath. But Republicans hope that the scandal's odor clings permanently to Gore no matter how often he changes his clothing.

Bush kept the game going as the Democratic convention opened here by calling on Gore to say how he differs from Clinton either personally or in policy.

Moreover, every time Clinton appears in public, the media helps tie Clinton to Gore, constantly revisiting Clinton's dual image as a political genius and personal reprobate -- plus the contrast between Clinton's easy charm and Gore's clunkiness.

The reaction of many Democrats to Clinton's valedictory speech here Monday night was that it was good that it raised a high mark for Gore's Thursday night acceptance speech.

Clinton did Gore no great favors with the speech. He spent 80 percent of it recounting the successes of his administration and just 10 percent linking Gore to them, giving no vivid examples that would change the public's perception of Gore as merely Clinton's sidekick.

A Los Angeles Times poll showed that, in sum, Clinton-Gore linkage is working the Republicans' way. Asked what they disapprove about Gore, 29 percent of voters mentioned his Clinton connection and 18 percent called him "not trustworthy."

Republicans haven't even begun to exploit Gore's own ethical problems, notably his participation in 1996 fund-raising irregularities and his awkward explanation of them.

If and when the going gets rough -- reportedly, when Gore begins raising the issue of Bush's appearance at arch-conservative Bob Jones University this year -- Republicans plan to trot out Clinton's famous 1993 assurance that his would be "the most ethical administration in American history" to throw at Gore.

Meantime, Gore demonstrates that he is anxious to be out of Clinton's shadow. Gore advisers admit candidly that his selection of straight-arrow Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., as his running mate was at least partly designed to exorcise the Clinton ghost.

Asked to what extent he expected Clinton to be an issue through November, Gore campaign manager Bill Daley asked me, "You don't expect it to go away, do you?"

Somehow, Gore has got to change the subject -- away from Clinton, away from personality and on to "the future." The majority of polls show that, on most issues, the public sides with Gore.

On the issue that Bush himself defined as central to the campaign -- what to do with the $2 trillion federal budget surplus -- an LA Times poll this week showed that by five to one, voters prefer Gore's approach of paying down the national debt and bolstering retirement programs, as opposed to Bush's tax cut.

When both candidates' views on Social Security were described, 55 percent of voters preferred Gore's plan and only 32 percent preferred Bush's. Gore enjoyed a double-digit lead on health care and lesser leads on protecting Medicare and keeping the economy prosperous.

The two candidates were essentially even on other issues -- abortion policy, gun control, Supreme Court appointments and education.

So, Gore's task is to make the country focus on a choice of "two futures" -- one (his) in which the fruit of the country's prosperity is used for investment in better health

and education for the nation, and another (Bush's) in which it's given to those who already are well-off. Simultaneously, Gore must try to turn back on Bush the allegation that Democrats are partisan, negative campaigners.

Republicans are, after all, trying to tar Gore personally with a brush called "Clinton." Gore's problem is trying to figure out how to make that accusation without seeming to repudiate his political benefactor. Gore had best concentrate on the future.

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


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07/20/00: Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey
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07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
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06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
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
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12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
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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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