BUSH CREEPS BACK INTO DEAD HEAT... McCAIN ON THE WARPATH
Democrats, meanwhile, begin to stir after month-long hibernation
Monday, February 28, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
Texas Governor George W. Bush has crept back into what is now a dead heat in the Republican delegate count (the Texan now has- according to the count on "The Green Papers"- 93 pledged delegates against Arizona Senator John McCain's 96) with small victories in the "territories" over the weekend. Much should not be made of these "territorial wins" themselves: it has been a long time (1968, in fact, was the last) since these offshore non-States have failed to back the choice of the GOP leadership in a competitive Republican presidential nomination race; yet it is also true that, with the Texas Governor picking up the 4 delegates apiece available in American Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands on Saturday [26 February] and then winning the primary in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (which gave Bush 14 more precious delegates) on Sunday [27 February], that race heading into the primary in Virginia come Tuesday 29 February has become as heated as the delegate count now has.
The Old Dominion still provides, for all intents and purposes, a relatively minor contest in the Bush vs. McCain "battle of the new Century"- a mere microcosmic precursor (Virginia being a Southern state, but also one with Mid-Atlantic style Suburbia closer to Our Nation's Capital) to the even bigger battle looming on 7 March: essentially no more than what Delaware was to South Carolina earlier this month. Yes- it is true that Virginia's 56 delegates (winner take all, no less!) are significantly more than the 12 Bush picked up in Delaware back on 8 February: however, this number pales in comparison to what will be at stake over the fortnight immediately following Leap Year Day (Washington's GOP contest the same day is even more of a minor skirmish: only 12 delegates- less than one third of the Evergreen State's delegation to the Republican National Convention- are up for grabs in that primary; the rest will be chosen through a Caucus/Convention procedure) . As a result, a loss in Virginia will not be the potential knock-out blow for either GOP contender which South Carolina might have, at one time, appeared to have been in the wake of McCain's first big win in New Hampshire at the beginning of this month now about to close.
Nevertheless, despite its relatively minor status in the GOP pre-Convention calendar, the battle over Virginia has become something of a practice run for the campaigns of Bush and McCain as both contenders gear up for even bigger battles come 7, 10 and 14 March. McCain has turned the negative up a notch- taking on such Virginia conservative icons as the Commonwealth's Governor James Gilmore and Senator John Warner (both of whom- well entrenched in the state's Republican establishment- are supporting Governor Bush) and even some even more conservative icons in the state, such as television evangelist and former GOP presidential contender Pat Robertson (this latter most interesting given the support former contender Gary Bauer had shown John McCain in the week just prior to the Arizonan's loss in South Carolina and his subsequent big comeback victories in Michigan and his own home state).
For his part, the Texas Governor is trying to make amends with those his own contacts with the more rightist elements of the so-called "Christian conservative wing" have done much to offend- primarily as a result of his controversial visit to Bob Jones University in the days leading up to the Texan's big win in South Carolina. Of late, Bush has taken to publicly admitting that he should have spoken out more against racial and anti-Catholic bigotry at the time: which begs the question so obvious, then why didn't he do it back then- when potential support from pro-Bob Jones Republicans in the Palmetto State was most on the line?! It seems a higher element of hypocrisy, more so than usual, has now come into the campaigns of the two leading Republican contenders: a foreshadowing of what the next two weeks may, in fact, be like... times ten!!
Meanwhile, the Democratic contenders- former Senator Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore (I just wanted to remind the reader who the two Democratic contenders actually were, just in case you had forgotten!)- have come out of their caves into the early Spring of primary/caucus "season" after a period of hibernation necessitated by the Democrats' own Rule 10A which decrees that only Iowa and New Hampshire may begin their delegate selection process re: the Democratic National Convention before the first Tuesday in March (7 March this time round). And, like bears coming out of just such a long winter's nap, both Bradley and Gore each appear hungrier and meaner than they were in the immediate aftermath of New Hampshire!
This may explain just why both Democrats have spent a fair amount of time glad-handing in Washington, which is holding a non-binding Democratic primary (a-la Delaware back on 5 February) at the same time the Republicans are holding their own hemidemisemi-primary in the Evergreen State. But recall that these are two candidates who had once boycotted their own party's Delaware contest to show support for that very Rule 10A! Now, when they have to reintroduce themselves to the voters once again after pretty much a paucity of media coverage compared to that given the Republicans over nearly a month, they are campaigning in a state which, like Delaware was, is- technically, but only just!- in violation of that very rule they made such a show of defending earlier in the process. The GOP certainly has NO monopoly on creeping campaign hypocrisy!
There is, however, another reason for the Bradley vs. Gore battle to heat up again more than a week before what- for each of them- is a big showdown come 7 going into 14 March (besides that of using Washington's advisory contest as a "proving ground" for just how they each will go about this: very much in the way both Bush and McCain are using Virginia's primary this week as a "sparring contest" on the Republican side): Bradley and Gore both now have to start taking on the Republican(s) who will most likely be their opponent come 7 November should either of them be the Democratic candidate for President. For Vice President Gore, the approach is to appear the Democrats' nominee-presumptive (a lower key version of what Governor Bush once was doing on the GOP side... until he got tripped up in New Hampshire, that is!) by beginning to take on both Bush and McCain in his campaign advertising, painting them as "hard right" (at least in comparison to the more centrist [in his own view] Gore) and, at the same time, arguing that Bill Bradley is not the one who can best defend the core values of the Democratic Party (to Gore's supporters, the REAL "America") against the onslaughts of either of these two "extremists" now battling so intently for the GOP nomination.
Senator Bradley's approach in his stepping up the anti-GOP aspect of
his campaign (even while he is still locked in a struggle for the
Democrats' big prize in L.A. come the Summer) must be, of necessity,
somewhat more direct: for, unlike the Vice President, the New Jerseyan
is actually battling a Republican (John McCain) right now!- fighting
the Arizonan for the hearts and minds of the Independent voters both he
and McCain will need in order to patch together any hope of victories
in the Open Primary states next month (and, should each of them survive
this next fortnight of skirmishes within their respective parties,
perhaps even beyond!!). Bradley's showing in New Hampshire clearly
indicated the greater pull his one-time Senate colleague has on those
very Independents: as a result, Bradley's taking on McCain has to be
not only more direct but also more acute than Gore's taking on the
Republicans more generally. In the end- although Gore has to go after
TWO Republicans, since the Vice President cannot be so sure which one
he would be facing come the Fall should he be the Democratic nominee-
Bradley is the only one of the four leading presidential contenders in
either of the two major parties who is forced, almost by definition, to
take on TWO pre-Convention opponents- one in each major party, no
less!- at one and the same time.