That Time Al Gore Blocked Traffic to Win an Election; Or, Why Christie’s Scandal Matters

Stop in the name of my ambition.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

In his memoirs, former Al Gore/John Kerry campaign manager Bob Shrum shared a secret tale from the 2000 New Hampshire primary. The vice president’s lead had been slipping in the hours before Election Day. On the day itself, Tim Russert called Shrum to share/cheer about exit polls showing Bill Bradley heading to an upset win. Shrum consulted with his turnout guru.

Michael Whouley came up with a last-ditch scheme: Send Gore into areas of southern New Hampshire where there was a lot of Bradley support among upscale voters and commuters who worked across the border in Massachusetts. Many of them cast their ballots late in the day after driving home. Gore’s motorcade – candidate, press, Secret Service, and police – could snarl traffic and keep some of the commuters from ever getting to their polling places or even trying to. We were perpared to try anything. But we didn’t share the rationale with Gore; we just sent him on his way.

Soon Wholey heard from an irate vice president. He was causuing a massive traffic jam and it was time to call off this last-minute foray. Whouley was reluctant to tell him the truth, instead explaining that we had to fight for every last vote. But voters, Gore snapped, were having trouble getting to the polls. Whouley cleared his throat: “But sir, they’re mostly Bradley voters.” He didn’t need to say anything more. Gore got the point and continued on, although there wasn’t enough time to go on to the last stop Whouley had planned. The traffic was just impossible.

This never became a huge scandal, for one big and one small reason. Big reason: Gore had already lost the presidency. Who cared how he won a primary on the way to Florida? Small reason: There wasn’t exactly a pattern of Gore committing such crimes against democracy.

So, back to the Chris Christie bridge scandal. People forget this, but on the way to his narrow 2009 win, Christie had to get past stories about his alleged politicization of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The most memorable ad run against him accused him of “throwing his weight around” to get a speeding ticket dismissed; Christie attacked the ad for implicitly mocking his girth. (Honestly, it wasn’t that implicit, with a long slow-mo shot of the hefty attorney in a tight white dress shirt.) Throughout the 2013 re-elect, reporters (especially the NYT’s Kate Zernike) collected and published stories of Christie going overboard on the shaming of critics, but Christie was coasting, so the stories didn’t get much national pickup.

It’s 2014, though. The old stories are no longer “old”—they are part of the Media Narrative, that magic gossamer that trails every potential president.