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Jewish World Review Dec. 8, 2000 / 12 Kislev, 5761

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports

Why didn't Bush do better? -- MY EDITOR sent me an e-mail with a story idea (for some reason, editors think they have to do this to earn their pay), and it went as follows: "What went wrong for Gore?"

I immediately e-mailed back. (The editor's office is about 20 yards away from mine, but we both prefer e-mails to human contact.) I said: "Gore overcame a 17-point deficit in the polls to win the popular vote by about 300,000 votes. Also, it is pretty widely agreed that a majority of the people who went to the polls in Florida intended to cast votes for him, though the Republicans argue Bush ultimately garnered a few hundred more "legal" votes than Gore. So it's pretty hard to argue that Gore did much of anything wrong."

You could ask -- though nobody did -- why Bush didn't do better. Why did it get down to just one state for Bush? Why didn't he put Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge on the ticket instead of Dick Cheney and lock up Pennsylvania instead of losing it to Gore? Why did he waste so much time in states that Gore won handily?

As I said, nobody is asking those questions because as I write this it looks like Bush is going to be our next president, and nobody asks such questions of winners.

Which is maddening for the Gore people. The pundits and talking-heads, few of whom I saw out on the campaign trail over the last two years, now casually say and write that Gore ran a "terrible" campaign -- without ever saying how this "terrible" campaign managed to win the popular vote.

Me, I don't think he did run a terrible campaign. I covered both Gore and Bush week in and week out, and the fact is they both did a good job. Gore had more highs and lows than Bush, while Bush's campaign ran on a more even keel.

But both campaigns identified their voters, shaped appeals to them and got the vote out. And the razor thin nature of the Florida vote -- and a few other states -- is a reflection of how effectively both campaigns fought each other to a virtual draw.

Could Gore have done more? Theoretically, sure.

Firstly, as all his critics say, he was unable to get credit for the good economy. But nobody says how he was supposed to do so. Clinton barely gets credit. Alan Greenspan barely gets credit. So how was a vice president supposed to get credit?

Let me ask you something. If your company has a good year, do you immediately think that your company's vice president is a genius? Or do you say that you and your colleagues worked your butts off and that's why the company had a good year?

The fact is Americans are not in a mood to give credit for the good economy to anyone but themselves.

Second, the Elian Gonzalez case turned out to be a disaster for Gore. Even though Gore supported keeping Elian in the United States, he was blamed because the Clinton administration and its Justice Department sent Elian back to Cuba.

This had a huge effect in Miami-Dade County, where Cuban-Americans make up the largest voting bloc.

"The impact of the Elian decision affected the outcome of the election; I truly believe it," said Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the Cuban exile group Democracy Movement. "If the Elian Gonzalez case had been handled differently, Gore would've been president."

Sanchez is probably correct. Clinton won 60 percent of the vote in Miami-Dade County in 1996, while Gore won just 53 percent this year. That seven percent turned out to be huge.

"If Gore would have done as well as Clinton did (in 1996), he would have left the state with a 40,000 margin," said Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Third, the debates were a mess. They were supposed to be Gore's killing fields, demonstrating how he was more experienced and smarter than Bush. The fields turned to swamps, however, when Gore was too hot in the first debate, two cold in the second debate and by the third debate few cared if he was just right or not.

But remember this: It would not have made any difference if Gore had increased his votes in the states he ended up winning. That would have given him just a larger popular vote victory. Instead, Gore had to win a new state that would have pushed him over 270 electoral votes. Since he has 267 now, all he needed was to pick up a state with at least four electoral votes: New Hampshire fits the bill perfectly since it is a state that Gore narrowly lost.

But who knew? It is easy to say now that campaigning hard in New Hampshire would have made the difference for Gore, but before Election Night that was virtually impossible to foresee.

You could, by the way, come up with bunch of flubs and mistakes for Bush, too.

But, as I said, when it looks like you're going to be the winner, nobody second-guesses you.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate