Jewish World Review May 19, 2000 / 14 Iyar, 5760
A Los Angeles Times poll shows George Bush with an eight-point lead (51-43). He leads by 21 points among married voters. The "gender gap," meaning Republican weakness with women, has disappeared: Bush is supported by 48 percent of women, Gore 46. Bush leads by 14 points among married women (two-thirds of the female electorate), has a 16-point lead (55-39) among men and has the support of one-fifth of Democratic men. Among self-described independents, his lead is 16 points. He leads Gore in every age cohort except voters 65 or older, and in every income group except those earning $20,000 to $40,000. Gore's lead in those two groups is small.
A New York Times poll shows Bush leading among men and women, Catholics and northeasterners. All this in spite of the fact that on a range of issues many people favored Gore's positions.
A veteran Democratic consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the public gives Gore no credit for the economy's performance. He is not regarded as an important maker of Clinton administration economic policy. (Neither is Clinton considered the architect of the Greenspan Boom.) The public does not think the boom is primarily a product of government policy. The long boom seems almost a force of nature, and it seems durable, which undercuts Gore's attempts to frighten voters into thinking that the things they value (prosperity, peace, the welfare state, the family puppy) are so fragile that Bush might destroy them, inadvertently (with "risky schemes") if not malevolently.
Also, Gore hurt himself with what was perceived as an opportunistic split with the administration regarding Elian Gonzalez. This confirmed many voters' suspicions that Gore's hunger for office is unseemly. In "A Man for All Seasons," an exasperated Thomas More runs his hands up and down his friend Norfolk and exclaims, "Is there no single sinew in the midst of this that serves no appetite of Norfolk's but is, just, Norfolk?" Gore's behavior regarding Elian made Gore seem to be appetite, straight through.
This year may resemble 1980. For Bush today, as for Ronald Reagan then, the key to winning is just reaching a threshold of presidential plausibility. In May 1980, with Soviet forces in Afghanistan, with the humiliation of the hostage crisis in Iran compounded by the fecklessness of invading Iran with eight helicopters, with stagflation giving rise to a "misery index" (the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates, which peaked at 19.6 in 1980), perhaps four-fifths of the electorate did not want to reelect President Carter.
Nowhere near that many voters had decided by May 1980, or would eventually decide, to vote against Carter. But there was scant enthusiasm for reelecting him. So Reagan's principal task was to seem acceptable. As late as the single debate on Oct. 28, polls showed the race in a virtual dead heat. In the debate, Reagan's performance, particularly his amiable "There you go again" response to Carter's charge that he was a threat to Medicare (this was a Carter version of Gore's by now almost comic mantra about Bush's having a "risky scheme" about this and that), convinced enough voters that he was a safe alternative to Carter.
In 1980 disagreeable conditions made change seem imperative. Today pleasant conditions make change seem safe. This defines Bush's task and Gore's problem. Bush must project presidential stature and select a running mate who augments the perception that he is a safe choice. The breadth of Gore's current weakness, in spite of the fact that voters seem to prefer his positions to Bush's on many issues, suggests that he himself--his persona--is not attractive beyond, or even throughout, the Democratic
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