Jewish World Review Aug. 3, 1999 /21 Av, 5759
Behind he is. In January and February, when impeachment dominated the news, voters wanted Bill Clinton to stay in office but favored George W. Bush over Al Gore by 50 percent to 40 percent in public polls. In 34 polls from March to July, Bush led Gore by 54 percent to 37 percent. Public polls in 23 states show New York, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Hawaii within the margin of error and Bush with significant leads in 19. These numbers look like the Reagan-Mondale race in 1984; it is as if the Clinton-Gore victories of the 1990s never happened.
This could change, of course. Gore strategists point out that Michael Dukakis led George Bush by similar margins up through August 1988. Then Bush took advantage of the spotlight of the Republican convention and got out from under the shadow every president casts over his vice president. The same thing could happen this cycle. There is widespread satisfaction with the economy, and many Clinton-Gore policies test well in polls and focus groups. Gore's abilities, like Dan Quayle's, are greater than the voters think. His labored, wooden style of speaking, while irritating, is not disqualifying. He performed superbly in debates against Ross Perot in 1993 and Jack Kemp in 1996 (though not against Quayle in 1992).
But there are troubling signs. Gore strategists intend to link the Republican nominee to an extremist Republican Party. But how extremist are Republicans to most voters? From January through March, nine polls asking which party's candidate voters would prefer in House races found Democrats ahead 45 percent to 39 percent. But six polls since April show a statistical tie, 42 percent to 41 percent. This question has underestimated Republican performance in 1990s elections; the recent polls are the Republicans' best in the entire decade. Plus, the Democrats' juiciest target, Newt Gingrich, has disappeared.
The Clinton factor. Gore has another problem, named Bill Clinton. Voters respect Clinton's performance but are unfavorable to him personally; they wanted to keep him in office in 1998, but they want to replace him in 2000 with someone with honesty, morality, and dignity. Clinton has been campaigning for Gore as no president has campaigned for his vice president in American history. But the White House cleared the field too much, leaving just Bill Bradley as the repository to anyone who has a problem with Gore: He has raised impressive sums of money and attracted endorsements from leftish Sen. Paul Wellstone and moderate Sen. Bob Kerrey. The course of Gore's campaign so far–a big staff shake-up, a possibly overlarge staff, excessive spending on overhead–suggests an unsteadiness that could hurt him. The campaign always reflects the candidate, and so far the signs about Gore are mixed.
The self-righteous unnecessary lie, the implausible explanation, the irrelevant argument–all pure Clinton. This is a minor incident, and perhaps atypical. But similar behavior could prove fatal during the few weeks when most voters pay