The key to Gore's success? John McCain. Bush has failed to capitalize on
McCain's blueprint for success with swing voters -- so Gore co-opted the
by Seth Gitell
Nearly one week after Labor Day -- the unofficial start of the presidential
campaign -- Democratic candidate Al Gore has a solid lead in the polls over GOP
challenger George W. Bush. The secret to Gore's success? Arizona senator John
Officially, of course, McCain is supporting Bush. But by running a strong
campaign against Bush in the primaries, McCain provided a blueprint for success
with the much-talked-about independent swing voters. These voters -- who number
around one million -- are seen as the key to victory in November's election.
With his speech at the Democratic convention and throughout his campaign since
then, Gore has courted them by co-opting the key elements of McCain's message:
railing against powerful political interests, fighting for "working families,"
and promoting broader "American values" that speak to the center of the
electorate. And it's working. Gore went into the Democratic convention 10
points behind Bush in most national polls. His numbers bounced back immediately
after the convention and, to the surprise of pundits and pollsters, have
Bush, meanwhile, has completely ceded the ground defined by McCain
in the primaries. The Republican convention was an orgy of corporate largesse
-- half-a-million-dollar parties, a Republican candy-eating fest (the "Death by
Chocolate Social"), private fishing trips for big donors with House Speaker
Dennis Hastert. With his vice-presidential pick, Dick Cheney, Bush formed the
first double oil-tycoon ticket in history. And although he calls himself the
"Reformer with Results," we haven't seen much from Bush on reform these days.
He has yet to utter a syllable about campaign-finance reform -- except to make
fun of Gore's visit to a Buddhist temple (more on that later). What's more,
when Bush puts Cheney forward to act as his surrogate, all the focus is on the
millions of dollars in stock options that Cheney stands to earn during the next
presidential term. The problem is so acute that it was the focus of a
devastating column by conservative columnist Robert Novak on August 31, in
addition to articles by other influential conservatives, such as Robert George
and Ramesh Ponnuru on NationalReview.com.
The bottom line? In rejecting McCain's message, Bush has squandered his
political lead and is now stuck in a Dukakis-like spiral. This leaves us with
three questions to keep in mind between now and November 7. Can Bush recover?
Will Gore keep his advantage? And what, if anything, does this mean for John
Gore has completely taken McCain's message," says Ken Weinstein, a senior
fellow at the nonpartisan Hudson Institute in Washington. "Gore's message is,
at heart, of the people versus the powerful. This was McCain's message: `let's
take on the special interests and send them home.' "
Consider this passage from Gore's convention acceptance speech: "I know one
thing about the job of the president. It is the only job in the Constitution
that is charged with the responsibility of fighting for all the people -- not
just the people of one state, or one district, not just the wealthy or the
powerful -- all the people, especially those who need a voice, those who need a
champion, those who need to be lifted up so they are never left
behind. . . . If you entrust me with the presidency, I will
fight for you."
It's strikingly similar to McCain's announcement speech on September 27, 1999,
in Nashua, New Hampshire, where he outlined the "new patriotic challenge": "It
is a fight to take our government back from the powerbrokers and special
interests, and return it to the people and the noble cause of freedom it was
created to serve. If we are to meet the challenges of our time, we must take
the corrupting influence of special-interest money out of politics."
Gore has even adopted the calling card of the McCain presidential effort --
campaign-finance reform. "If you entrust me with the presidency, I will put
democracy back in your hands, and get all the special-interest money, all of
it, out of our democracy, by enacting campaign-finance reform," Gore said
during his convention speech. "I feel so strongly about this, I promise you
that campaign-finance reform will be the very first bill that Joe Lieberman and
I send to the United States Congress."