The Elector Hunt Begins

The campaign to persuade electors to tread the forbidden path once contemplated by the popular novelist James A. Michener (who was a near-faithless elector in the 1968 presidential election) has officially started. Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Glenn Simpson, Tom Hamburger, and Laurie Cohen report:

One battle-tested Democratic consultant has even begun a quiet intelligence-gathering operation that could aid a last-ditch Gore strategy in the Electoral College. Bob Beckel, who managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 Democratic presidential campaign and has close ties to [Warren] Christopher, has been checking into the background of Republican electors, with an eye toward persuading a handful of them to vote for Mr. Gore. If Mr. Bush eventually prevails in Florida but wins none other of the most closely contested states, he would have 271 electoral votes. Three GOP defections could make Mr. Gore president.“It is information gathering on my part, using my own network,” Mr. Beckel said, confirming an operation he set in motion days after the Nov. 7 election. “I call on mostly Democrats, but some Republicans, too, and ask, ‘Who are these electors, and what do you know about them?’ I just wanted to know who these electors are.”Mr. Beckel, who owns a political-analysis business based in Arlington, Va., said he is working independently, “on an ad-hoc basis,” and hasn’t yet contacted any electors directly. “I wouldn’t do that without first informing the Gore campaign,” he said. The Gore camp itself has disavowed any intention of seeking to sway GOP electors.

Chatterbox guesses that Beckel is working at least in part off the Journal’s Nov. 13 canvass of 120 electors. (He probably also has a printout of Matthew Miller’s provocative Nov. 9 “Flip The Electors” piece in Slate.) Who might he want to learn more about? Well, there’s GOP elector Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., who told the Journal: “I expect to vote for Bush, but nothing is guaranteed in life.” There’s GOP elector Francis Sadler of Virginia, who said, “I’ve learned never to say never.” There is GOP elector Mamon Wright of Tennessee, who said he is “almost definitely” going to vote for Bush. Not exactly Shermanesque, are they?

Chatterbox feels certain that Beckel has at least one opposite number in the Republican Party–that is, some high-level operative, probably wearing a similar figleaf of deniability about working for the official campaign, focused either on keeping Bush electors on board or on turning Gore electors into Bush electors. Chatterbox would like to know who that person is. (Readers with any hard leads are invited to drop a line to Chatterbox does not include in this category Don Frankenfeld, a Republican political consultant and former congressional candidate, whose “Coalition Coalition” is trying to get the electors to form a Bush-Gore government. (Or is it Gore-Bush?) Frankenfeld has taken the extraordinary step of posting the names and addresses of electors on the Web. Chatterbox doesn’t believe a coalition government is in the cards but thinks Frankenfeld’s little list will likely get lots of hits in the coming weeks from individuals with far more partisan motives.