Charles Cook discusses election uncertainty

by Andy Albeck | 11/3/00 6:00am

Last night, Charles Cook, seen by some as one of the most astute political analysts of the Washington scene, spoke to a full audience about the uncertainty of the upcoming elections.

Cook is the editor and publisher of "The Cook Political Report," has served as a Washington Insider for Rolecall Magazine and has appeared both on CBS and NBC as a political analyst on several occasions.

Noting that the country is in the midst of economic prosperity and has a roughly even amount of Republican and Democratic voters, in his speech yesterday Cook said that next Tuesday may turn out to be one of the "most important elections, at least since the end of World War II."

When asked to predict a winning candidate, Cook said he would go with Bush, because of the Republican candidate's current three to four percent lead in national polls.

The fact that Bush is ahead nationally, however, "masks the situation," Cook said. He attributes this uncertainty to those battleground states -- states with a two or three percent difference between candidates such as Michigan and Florida -- where the race is "legitimately too close to call."

"We haven't seen a corresponding shift in the key battleground states to what the national polls indicate," Cook said.

Cook noted that past presidential races have generally been about continuity or change.

"This election is particularly odd, however, because it is about both," Cook said.

He explained that the combination of a moderate government and a good economy has led to a populace that is content with the present situation. On the other hand, most people have grown weary of the recent scandals and are looking for a change in leadership.

Cook discussed the importance of swing voters in such a close race.

"What the swing voters want to know is 'does Al Gore represent enough change and does George W. Bush represent too much?'" he said.

Among such voters, the presentation of the candidates plays a greater role than ever. Cook pointed out that most swing voters see Al Gore as someone who knows a lot about the issues, but is too partisan, condescending and untrustworthy. They perceive Bush as more likeable, but someone who they are not sure is qualified to be president.

"These people are just torn," said Cook, referring to such undecided voters as "agonizers."

Cook also discussed other pertinent issues about the presidential race, including the impact of Al Gore's pick of Senator Joe Lieberman as his vice presidential candidate.

"It was such an unexpected choice," Cook said. "It enabled Gore to get out of Clinton's shadow for the first time all year."

He noted that Gore's failure to somehow publicly show disapproval of Clinton's actions may have hurt him in the long run by tying him too closely to the president.

"Generally, the more dynamic the president, the darker the shadow behind him. Clinton has a very dark shadow," Cook said.

The discussion also focused on the upcoming legislative elections, which have the potential to shift the balance of party power in Congress.

Cook focused on the New York senatorial race, in which he predicted a Clinton victory over congressman Rick Lazio. He explained that although Lazio was less of a "polarizing" candidate than the First Lady, the fact that there are many more registered Democrats will likely swing the election in their favor.

In addition to the low number of prominent House races, there will be a large number of open Republican seats and a small number of Democratic retirements. Cook argued that this is due to an initiative of Democratic leadership where many present Congressmen were urged not to retire when they had the option. This action was not mirrored by the Republicans which will lead to a drop off in Republican House seats.

In the senatorial races, Cook discussed the inevitability of the Republicans losing seats, due to a public backlash against the "tidal wave elections" of six years ago when many Republicans were elected into office.

In addition, Cook said that Lazio's brash style of debate will most likely have a negative influence on his campaign.

"The Democrats need five seats effectively either way to gain a Senate majority, whether Gore or Bush wins," Cook said. He reasoned that, in addition to battling for senatorial victories in battleground states such as Florida, Minnesota and Delaware, they would have to replace Joe Lieberman's position as senator from Connecticut. Cook predicted that it was more likely that the Democrats would win back three or four spots, but the Republicans would retain the majority in the Senate.

Cook concluded his speech by noting that the election on Tuesday would not seal either party's position in government for long.

"I wouldn't view the election as the end of the game but only halftime," said Cook, claiming that the 2002 House races will likely see a more significant shift in power to one party or the other.