The Bubba Factor

by Brian Nick | 10/25/00 5:00am

Well, it is now less than two weeks until Election Day, and Al Gore and George W. Bush are making their last second pushes to mobilize their base to get out the vote and appeal to those few coveted independent voters who are still undecided. In recent weeks Bush has surged ahead of Gore and it now appears he is leading in both the popular and electoral vote polls. Still, the large number of undecided voters and toss up states are making it difficult to project a winner at this point. So what is Gore going to do in the next 13 days to get the toss ups to go his way?

Since the Democratic Convention -- and even in the weeks and months preceding it -- Gore has been telling America that he is his "own man". What he was and still is trying to do, of course, is distance himself from President Clinton and try to get the American people to see him as a leader, not someone who has been #2 for the last eight years. It does not make sense that Gore, who is for all intensive purposes an incumbent in the greatest economic prosperity in history, could be behind at this stage of the game. It is even more perplexing that he has not touted the strength of the economy more in his campaign speeches and in the debates, opting instead to talk about his own vision for America. In a sense he has made a deal with the voters. He won't ask us to give him the credit for the state of the economy if we will not associate him with his boss's personal and moral shortcomings. In other words, he can live with getting little of the credit for the economy if it means he also receives little of the blame for the numerous White House scandals we have come to love. As a result, we have not seen Bill Clinton out campaigning for Gore and it appears the Vice President would prefer to keep it that way. If the polls continue to favor Bush, however, he may have no choice but to unleash Bubba.

To complicate matters, President Clinton has made it publicly known that he wants to campaign for Gore, as he has for his wife in New York and for other Democrats across the country running for Congress and the Senate. It has also slipped out that the President feels the Gore campaign is being poorly run, and he would like to have more input. Of course, all parties involved are now denying this rumor. In any case, Gore's people are starting to realize that they may need to deploy the President to rally the voters in certain areas of the country where the Vice President is struggling but where Clinton's popularity is still high.

There is a specific type of person that the President needs to target, and it is not the fabled "independent voter" that Gore has been courting throughout his campaign. If anything, the more moderate Americans could be turned off of Gore if our morally controversial commander-in-chief campaigned on his behalf. The people who have traditionally voted Democrat but who have not rallied behind Al Gore are the ones the President needs to reach out to. More specifically, this group includes labor unions and minorities, especially blacks, among whom Clinton is still tremendously popular. If Clinton does appear for Al Gore, he will be sent to targeted areas in toss up states like West Virginia, Michigan and Arkansas -- Clinton's home state but one that is in danger of tipping towards Bush.

Gore's reluctance to have his boss campaign for him can be understood. The President is clearly a divisive individual, someone who is loved by many but loathed by others. Having Clinton campaign could potentially backfire if voters are turned off by his scandal-ridden reputation. Republicans would certainly be less likely to cast a crossover vote for Gore if Clinton were to campaign for him, and the trend Independents could prove similar. It is quite probable, however, that the President could rally the Democratic base in many key areas, possibly even delivering a state or two that could otherwise go either way. I would expect to start seeing Clinton out there towards the end of this week and into the next. Gore simply cannot afford not to use the President's popularity to his advantage where he can.

One would expect Vice Presidents to use the popularity of the sitting President to their advantages in good economic times. Vice President George Bush, for example, put Ronald Reagan's popularity to good use in 1988 and it helped him win the presidency. We have not seen this strategy employed this year partially because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the impeachment and the President's sexual affair but also because the Vice President has had trouble defining himself with the voters and does not need or want Clinton hanging over his shoulder.

You can say what you want about the President, but he is a masterful campaigner and few people have his remarkable ability to mobilize voters. Knowing this, it seems absurd that he has not been used more often in this presidential campaign. My guess is that over the next few days powerful Democrats will starting putting tremendous pressure on Gore to use Clinton, and we will all get to see Bubba work his charm one more time.

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