Pundit Central

T Minus Nine Days and Counting

Issue 1 is the state-by-state presidential race. Issue 2 is Ralph Nader’s impact on the election. Issue 3 is the budget battle on Capitol Hill.

Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) says that 18 states are still up for grabs. (Usually only six to 10 are contested this close to Election Day.) Cokie Roberts (ABC’s This Week) sees the race tightening in both directions–Al Gore gaining in formerly Bush-dominated states and vice versa. But most pundits think that George W. Bush has the momentum. In the past several weeks, notes Paul Gigot (NH), Bush has locked up the deep South (except Florida) and has come within striking distance of five states won by President Clinton in ‘92 and ‘96–West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Shields (NH) and George F. Will (TW) add that six of the 18 contested states were carried by Michael Dukakis in ‘88; George Stephanopoulos (TW) compares the travel logs of Clinton in ‘92 and Gore in ‘00 and reports that Clinton was visiting only traditional battleground states in October whereas Gore has spent much time stumping in Democratic states not yet locked up. Everybody agrees that Bush is surging in California–a must-win state for Gore–and that this has forced Gore to spend time and money there. (Bush’s Cali gain also helps the many California House Republicans struggling to get re-elected.) What accounts for such a close presidential race? George F. Will attributes it to peace and prosperity, which blurs political differences and ameliorates political passions. Shields attributes it to 1) the nationalizing of election issues and 2) the homogenizing of the U.S. population, both of which have moved traditionally “Democratic” and “Republican” states to the political center.

On TW, Ralph Nader faces a hostile Sam Donaldson, who all but denounces Nader for throwing the election to Bush. (Can you guess whom Donaldson is voting for?) Nader argues that on most issues–such as Social Security, private-school vouchers, and taxes–both Dems and the GOP will simply take orders from the corporate lobbies. He does concede a substantive major party difference on abortion, but he counters that 1) Bush isn’t serious about his pro-life rhetoric and 2) if Roe v. Wade is overturned, congressional Democrats will be to blame–nearly all of them voted for Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court nomination, and a crucial minority voted for Clarence Thomas.’ Mark Shields (CNN’s Capital Gang) observes that while Nader will siphon votes from Gore, he will help Democrats in the House by increasing left-wing turnout. Pollster John Zogby (CBS’s Face the Nation) predicts that Nader will win the 5 percent he needs to qualify for Green Party funding in the 2004 election. Why? None of his three major constituencies–18- to 24-year-olds, hard-core progressives, and independents–believe in Gore enough to abandon Nader. Stephanopoulos disagrees, arguing that 1 percent of Nader’s current 5 percent popularity are actually liberal Democrats who will defect to Gore on Election Day.

The pundits remark that Clinton’s budget deadlock with Congress is an election ploy intended to portray the GOP-controlled Congress as anti-reform. Al Hunt (CG) argues that this tactic won’t work because Bush has disassociated himself from the Republicans in Congress, but most pundits think that Clinton has a seemingly divine power to extract political victories from these showdowns. Stephanopoulos and Shields insist that Clinton has legitimate policy reasons to stare down the GOP on the budget–an argument reiterated by House Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on Fox News Sunday. Zogby predicts that whichever party wins the White House will win the House of Representatives, because presidential coattails matter when congressional races are close as they are now. GOP pollster Linda Divall (FTN) says that her party will win the House because Bush is surging in precisely the states–California, Oregon, and Washington–with the most contested House seats.

Death to the Ice Queen!

The pundits agree that Rick Lazio has a decent shot at upsetting Hillary Clinton in the New York Senate race. (Most polls put him five to seven points down, and a Zogby poll has him two points ahead.) This news excites Bob Novak (CG), who regales viewers with this anti-Hillary diatribe:

NOVAK: I’ll tell you, she is scary. I don’t scare easily, but she scares the hell out of me. That’s Madame DuFarge. I thought she is so sinister. I mean, I know how much she has lied. I mean telling, I mean, sitting there and saying these hateful things. I know there’s a private poll that shows that she is down at 45 percent right now. Forty-five percent at this stage of the game. She is in big trouble.MARGARET CARLSON: Name one hateful thing that she said. He was on the attack. She kind of, you know …

NOVAK: She interrupted him. She rolled her eyes.

CARLSON: But hateful. You said hateful.

NOVAK: She claimed he was–all right. I say what’s hateful. She said he didn’t have anything to do with the breast cancer bill, and she said that he was on the take to the housing and banking industries.

Last Word

If I were worried about whether Gore or Bush were going to be elected, would I be running for president to establish a progressive political reform movement, both before and after Nov. 7? … If Gore cannot beat the bumbling Texas governor with that kind of a record, what good is he? Good heavens.–Ralph Nader (TW)