Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2000 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
Lurking in the shadows
DESPITE Vice President Al Gore's wish that President Clinton make himself scarce between now and the election, Clinton is making himself a factor -- in some ways helping Gore and in some ways hurting him.
All the fuss during the past week over Clinton's role unquestionably has hurt Gore, knocking him off message and reminding people of his status for the past eight years as No. 2 to a politically gifted yet ethically flawed No. 1.
On the other hand, Clinton's use of his presidency -- notably in pushing hard for an immigration amnesty bill favored by Latino voters -- unquestionably will help Gore in several key states.
Clinton's prodigious fund-raising also has helped Democratic candidates, but if the president continues to attack Texas Gov. George W. Bush as he rallies the Democratic faithful for Gore, Bush promises to talk explicitly about ethical lapses he now only alludes to in his speeches.
Bush exquisitely put his finger on the right image for Clinton's place in the campaign when he joked on Tuesday that "the Shadow returns."
The term conjured up the old-time radio show, whose mysterious hero could "cloud men's minds so they cannot see him." The show's tag line went, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows."
Gore has been trying mightily to distance himself from Clinton -- escape the Shadow's shadow. But the more obviously he does so -- and he is not capable of being subtle about it -- the more he reminds people of their linkage.
Gore was so anxious to avoid references to Clinton during the television debates with Bush that, in the process, he underplayed his greatest strength in this campaign: the economic and social progress the country has made in the past eight years.
Yet, when Gore delivered his closing statement in the final debate, he found it necessary to emphasize that he had always been faithful to his marriage vows and had never violated his oath of office.
Obviously, he said that because the Shadow was not faithful either in his marriage or in sworn testimony in court, yet was famously praised by Gore as one of the greatest presidents in American history.
After The New York Times exhaustively established last week that Gore has been avoiding Clinton and refusing to take his campaign advice and that the president is miffed about it, the Gore campaign was buffeted by questions about Clinton's role.
Gore spokesmen specifically ruled out any joint appearances before the election, seeming to validate the Times' reporting that Gore feels "overshadowed" when he and Clinton are on the same stage.
Historically, sitting veeps always have a problem getting elected in their own right. Only three have ever done so -- John Adams, Martin Van Buren and George Bush.
Polls show why Gore faces a special problem: The ABC News and Voter.com surveys this week reveal that while voters support Clinton's job performance and policies by a 60 percent to 30 percent margin, they disapprove of him as a person by similar or larger margins.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that among voters who support Clinton's policies but disapprove of him personally, Bush enjoys a 31 percent edge over Gore.
Gallup found that 26 percent of voters are less favorably inclined toward Gore because of his ties to Clinton, versus only 9 percent who are more favorably inclined toward Gore because of his association with the president. Further, Gallup revealed that 40 percent are less inclined to vote for Gore if Clinton campaigns for him.
Yet Clinton is out there, and his White House spokesman says reporters should have their bags packed for endgame campaign trips.
Clinton surely has been effective in fund-raisers that occur without television cameras. He also has been effective in using his position to help keep the Republican Congress in town and yielding to his priorities.
Before the 1998 congressional election, he made education the basis of Democratic campaign appeals. This year, he is maneuvering Republicans into seeming anti-immigrant and anti-Latino, threatening to undo Bush's efforts to erase the memory of GOP immigrant-bashing in the early 1990s.
The Spanish-language media are giving front-page attention to the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, which calls for giving legal status to 400,000 immigrants who came to the United States before 1986 and to 300,000 who fled civil strife in El Salvador, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras and Liberia.
The measure has split Republicans, with Sen. John McCain, Ariz., and Rep. Tom Davis, Va., supporting it, and Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas, and Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas, opposing it on the grounds that it gives "blanket amnesty" to illegal aliens.
Bush, who once hoped to score significant gains among Hispanics over past GOP performance, has said he opposes "blanket amnesty," but is likely to support compromise legislation.
Bush currently is polling around 25 percent among Hispanics, which is little better than the 21 percent former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., received in the 1996 presidential campaign.
While Clinton as president can help Gore, the question arises: What happens when he goes out on the stump? If he attacks Bush, the governor's aides say, "We are ready."
With what? Bush aides won't say, but I can envision an ad showing Clinton in 1993 promising "the most ethical administration in American history" followed by a catalog of horrors. The danger for Republicans lies in overdoing
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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