Cook says elections lacked real issues
Independent political analyst Charles Cook called 1998 "a rollercoaster ride" that carried voters up and down but ultimately deposited them in their original position in a speech yesterday in 2 Rockefeller Center.
While even up to a year ago pundits were predicting outcomes similar to November's actual numbers, the Lewinsky scandal made differing predictions of voter results common throughout the last nine months.
Cook called Nov. 3 "weird," since even that night no one predicted the Democrats would gain seats and Republican hopes of picking up many Congressional seats would be dashed.
November's elections were characterized by several trends, Cook said.
He called this election the "Seinfeld election," because of the lack of issues candidates addressed.
Issues, he said, are campaign themes that have two sides and mean argument between candidates.
Topics, which dominated this election, are issues with only one side.
Education, a much-discussed theme of 1998, is a topic, not an issue, Cook said. "No one is ever against education," he said. "You can be against vouchers, but you're never against educating people."
Incumbents won in both houses of Congress, which Cook attributed to the "economy going along like gangbusters" and high Congressional approval ratings.
Cook said there were very few upsets, or unexpected results, in races and that closely-contested races went to the Democrats.
He said Democrats might have felt impelled to vote out of distaste for the release of President Clinton's grand jury testimony or the House vote for impeachment proceedings.
Increased minority and labor turnout made a big difference for Democrats, Cook said. He also said the South behaved oddly. "Before, you had to do something completely stupid to lose reelection in the South if you were Republican," he said. This year, several Republican incumbents lost while the Democrats held on to every seat.
Cook said he did not want to dwell on the Monica Lewinsky scandal but said it will impact the near future.
While most second-term presidents do little in their last terms in office, Cook said he thinks Clinton will "do everything to rewrite history" so the sexual scandals do not dominate historical commentary on his presidency.
These actions could include domestic policy decisions, but will more likely be foreign policy decisions, since Clinton needs less approval from Congress in that area.
Cook said the next two years will be "fascinating" with both the congressional and presidential elections up for grabs.
Congressional elections in 2000 should be a "battle royale" since both parties have to worry about key retirements leaving districts open and every seat counting toward which party controls the House. Cook said the party that wins the presidency should gain control of the House.
To predict who wins, Cook said he would like to know the state of the economy during that future election year. Should it be strong, Vice President Al Gore will have a good chance of winning, he said.
However, he said Gore lacks charisma. "The guy really is a stiff," he said.
Key Republican opponents could include Texas Governor George W. Bush, the front-runner right now, Elizabeth Dole, Steve Forbes and Lamar Alexander.
Others could enter the race, Cook said, but financing the campaign is a problem. "Good people could run but the price tag is way out of reach for most folks," he said.