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Why Neither Bush Nor Gore Is A Sure Bet

Washington Outlook

Why Neither Bush Nor Gore Is a Sure Bet

On Mar. 2, George W. Bush announced the creation of a Presidential exploratory committee, and the pundits proclaimed that it's over: The 2000 Presidential election will pit Bush vs. Al Gore. Bush is expected to trigger a Texas stampede and gallop over his GOP primary rivals. The Veep faces only token opposition from former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. But will the quest for the White House be so eerily predictable? Maybe not...Bush: Hope--and HypeGREAT EXPECTATIONS

With Republicans desperate for a winner, Bush has become the new Dwight D. Eisenhower. Armed with loads of endorsements, he's supposed to unite the party, salvage control of the House in 2000, make character a winning issue, and come off as more of an education booster than Gore. No one can live up to this hype. A solid Bush second-place finish in New Hampshire--whose voters hate ratifying the conventional wisdom--could be cast as a defeat.THE LIDDY FACTOR

Former Labor Secretary Elizabeth H. Dole's appeal cuts right into Bush's core support among women, suburbanites, and social moderates. She runs strongly against the Texan in early state matchups.RIGHT-WING ROWDIES

Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan won't roll over for Bush. Forbes's unlimited media barrage and Buchanan's punishing style of debate (ready for allusions to "King George II?") will batter the front-runner. Can Bush stand up to the pressure?NAME GAME

Right now, pollsters say Bush is benefiting from a wave of nostalgia for his dad. When the race heats up, the moniker could become more of a liability as rivals remind voters of the senior Bush's elitism, economic missteps, and lack of the "vision thing."FRONT-LOADING

State parties are pushing up primary and caucus dates. The result: In the first six weeks of the nominating season, ending on Mar. 21, more than 60% of the Republican delegates will be apportioned. Compression is supposed to favor front-runners. But it also magnifies any stumble, with little time for recovery.THE ISSUES GAP

Although he's a likable stump politician, Bush still hasn't shaped a national platform aside from talking up issues such as education and personal accountability. Where does he stand on tax cuts or Social Security? Nobody knows.Gore: Feet of Clay?GREAT EXPECTATIONS

With plans to raise millions for an early offensive against the GOP, Gore looks formidable. Tipper is practically redecorating the Lincoln bedroom. But press boredom with an early anointment could trigger harsh coverage. And there are troubling polls that show younger voters and independents consider Gore a bore.ECONO-WOES

The economy is humming, but the Veep gets no credit for the prosperity. Worse, a slump could yet wreck Gore's "bridge to the 21st century."THE ISSUES GAP

Awash in prosperity, today's voters ask not what their government can do for them--they just want pols to leave them alone so they can resume their spree at the mall. Besides, futurism isn't a policy. And Gore's paeans to education and better health care sound awfully familiar.UP THE ESTABLISHMENT

As the dutiful No. 2 who has worked his way up the ladder, Gore is an exemplar of the status quo. But 2000 could be an anti-Establishment election, with swing voters rejecting Republican radicalism and Democratic sleaze. It could be a bad year for insiders."NO CONTROLLING LEGAL AUTHORITY"

Gore says clunky things like that (don't forget his zippy new campaign slogan, "Practical idealism") because he surrounds himself with a subpar staff. Poetry is not among their top skills. If Gore debates Bush, another mediocre orator, the country could fall into a months-long swoon.TIPPER

Can anyone be this ickily nice? Wasn't she the Mom in Lassie? Didn't she try to kill rock 'n' roll? Given Hillary's popularity, maybe the nation really wants Evita.CHARM DEFICIT

Gore is a stilted campaigner who utterly lacks Clinton's magnetism and gift for blarney. Those communications skills enabled Clinton to push his agenda past a hostile Congress. By contrast, Gore is a plodder: bright without being quick, cautious rather than intuitive.BY LEE WALCZAK

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