Campaign 2000: Starting Out On Bush’s Home Field

Douglas Koopman

August 1, 2000

The Democratic and Republican conventions are over, and the non-stop
presidential campaign has already begun. Major party nominees George W.
Bush and Al Gore both “jumped the gun” on the traditional Labor Day
start, Bush starting his campaign in Gore’s home state of Tennessee, and
Gore cruising down the upper Mississippi River through some of the
battleground Midwestern states.

While the polls show the post-convention “bounces” balancing each other
out, other developments show that this fall’s contest is being played on
Bush’s home turf, thanks in no small part to Gore.

Gore’s choice of Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman as his
vice-presidential nominee puts in play the moral record of the
Clinton-Gore administration. One cannot look at and listen to the
Democrat’s number two and not immediately think of him as the
anti-Clinton; thus reminding oneself of the current President’s negative
attributes from which the Gore-Lieberman ticket is running away. While
Lieberman is certainly qualified to be a national Democratic leader even
apart from the Clinton factor, there is no question that without
Clinton, the Connecticut senator would not be on the ticket.

Gore’s second gift to the Bush campaign was his Thursday night
acceptance speech. His rushed delivery packed one and one-half hours of
autobiography and policy promises into fifty-five minutes. He delivered
what should have been the emotional parts of his autobiography without
emotion, and the details of his policy proposals without context or
vision. And it is perplexing why he identified campaign finance reform
as his top legislative priority, pledging to make it the first
legislation he would send to Congress. Does he not remember the “donor
maintenance event” at the Buddhist temple?

The rest of the Democratic convention week was also very much a mixed
bag. While Gore presented himself reasonably well as a good family man
and reasonably effective orator, the general impression was of a party
still trying, often too publicly, to solidify the most offensive
segments of its liberal base instead of reaching out to the swing voters
who will decide the contest. While mostly fawning media coverage
limited the damage somewhat, it could not change the underlying truth of
a still-fractious party.

Meanwhile, the afterglow of the Republican convention generally
helped the GOP. Vice-presidential choice Dick Cheney easily quelled
sharp but brief liberal attacks on his voting record, which ended as the
critics digested the Lieberman vice-presidential selection. And the GOP
convention’s emphasis on diversity, however artificial and overplayed it
may have been, seems to have made a significant fraction of the public
more open to Republican appeals.

So, even as the polls tighten with the post-Democratic convention
bounce, the Bush campaign must be quietly rejoicing. The campaign is
starting out on its turf, its home field. But it’s still a long game
through November, and even home teams can lose.

Douglas Koopman teaches political science at Calvin College and is an adjunct fellow at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University.