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Jewish World Review March 14, 2000 /7 Adar II, 5760

Roger Simon

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What the primaries have wrought: Seven lessons -- THERE ARE SEVERAL LESSONS to be learned from the fierce primary campaign just over, and here are seven of them:

1.KEEP FAKING SINCERITY. A good actor always keeps in character until he is several yards offstage, so that the audience never sees anything but the role he is playing. But John McCain, who allowed reporters to attach themselves to him like lamprey eels during the campaign, snapped, "Please get out of here" to poor Maria Shriver Tuesday night and the next morning warned a cameraman, "Don't put that camera in my face!"

McCain even refused to take questions after his withdrawal last Thursday. What did Bill Bradley do? He not only took questions from reporters but gave them $70 silver keychains from Tiffany's. Guess which candidate is planning to run again?

2. YOU'RE ALWAYS A LITTLE NERVOUS YOUR FIRST TIME. The most poised candidate in the primary race on either side was the man who had run for president before: Al Gore. His 1988 campaign was a shambles, but the American people don't care about old reviews, just the show that is opening on Saturday night. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush all ran once and lost before they high-kicked their way into the Oval Office. In politics, resurrection is not a miracle but a fact of life.

3. IT'S NOT THE SIZE OF THE BOMB; IT'S HOW YOU DROP IT. The lesson of this primary season is not that negative campaigning works, but that negative campaigning can work under the right conditions and when used by the right candidates.

"It's like radiation treatment," says Democratic consultant David Axelrod. "Use the right amount and you get cured. Use too much and it can kill you."

Gore and George W. Bush had a much easier time going negative because they were supported by the core constituents of their party, people who were going to vote for them no matter what. McCain and Bradley were appealing to voters who did not like politics as usual and wanted their candidates to take the high road. So when Bradley and McCain got down in the mud, some of their voters got turned off. This was especially harmful to Bradley, because many voters knew very little about him. It's an old rule of politics, but a true one: Don't go negative until you've established your positives.

4. IT'S HARDER THAN IT LOOKS. Front-runners are front-runners for a reason. They have the most money, the highest name recognition, and the best organizations. It matters. Organized labor can't deliver votes anymore, but it can deliver volunteers to make phone calls. If you have enough money -- and Bush had plenty -- you can buy that kind of help: The Bush campaign made 2 million voter phone calls for Super Tuesday.

"When you are a front-runner, the sheer size of your campaign also means you can take three or four bullets in the gut and still remain standing to the finish line," says Stuart Rothenberg, an independent analyst. "Front-runners are hard to bring down, and all the insurgents have is small-caliber guns."

5. FIND A PLAID ROCK. Put a really good chameleon or a really good politician on a plaid rock, and they will turn plaid. Call it adaptability, call it retooling, call it selling out, it doesn't matter. It works. Al Gore's desire to become president overrode his own ego and made him willing to change his entire approach to campaigning. Bill Bradley, on the other hand, wasn't even willing to stop sucking on throat lozenges while giving his speeches. Gore became warm and fuzzy -- many people vote based on which candidate they like most -- while Bradley remained cool, reserved and remote. From first day to last he gave the impression, accurate or not, that he liked The People more than he liked people.

6. SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO STAY UP WAY PAST LENO. "When Gore stayed after that first debate in Hanover, N.H., and answered questions for hours, that was a turning point," Gore campaign chairman Tony Coelho says. "That showed the people the commitment he was making." And Gore is still holding excruciatingly long town meetings, in which he guarantees upfront to stay until every last question is answered no matter how late that is.

"He gets four to six hours' sleep at night when he can," an aide says. "But he can get by on less." Bush is going to have to ratchet up his own activity level if he is going to stay competitive. He told me: "I'm up at 6:30 every morning and go to bed at 10:30 at night, and I'm shaking thousands of hands and I'm speaking from my heart. ..." But 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. means eight hours' sleep a night, which is even more than most reporters get.

7. IN THE FUTURE, THEY CAN KISS MY ETHANOL. Reversing a strategy invented by Jimmy Carter in 1976, who decreed that a candidate for president had to run in every primary and caucus, John McCain skipped Iowa, husbanded his forces for New Hampshire and won. Bradley spent millions on Iowa and lost. Bradley probably had little choice, however. He had raised almost as much money as Gore and was portraying himself as a credible, mainstream alternative to him.

"If it had been a three-way race, we would have skipped Iowa in a flash," a senior Bradley aide says. "We would have paid somebody else to get in. But head-to-head with Gore, we couldn't do it. We knew Iowa was going to be a disaster. We were bad on the issues for Iowa."

In the future, many candidates, especially those in multicandidate fields, will avoid Iowa and never have to bone up on agriculture or suck up to farmers again. This will make them happy.

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