THE BEGINNING OF THE END & THE END OF THE BEGINNING
Bill Bradley and John McCain arrive at their respective crossroads
Thursday, March 2, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
"I went down to the cross road
Bill Bradley's campaign has finally reached the end of its tether. If anyone has any doubt, one need only compare the tone and even timbre of the debate last night [Wednesday 1 March] between Bradley and Vice President Al Gore to the cadence and even syntax of the previous, much more acrimonious, debates between the two men to know that the former New Jersey Senator is all but ready to pack it in. Every indication currently looks to a blow out- if not a complete sweep- of Bradley by Al Gore in the Democratic primaries and caucuses scheduled for Super Tuesday come Tuesday 7 March.
Of course, it was pretty much over for Bradley before it started anyway! Not to beat a dying- if not yet quite dead- horse, but the Democrats' own pre-Convention delegate selection system was somewhat rigged against a challenger: what with all those Unpledged "Superdelegates" forcing the New Jerseyan to take on a labor of Herculean proportions in what is now certainly a vain attempt to deny the presidential nomination to a Vice President who is clearly the choice of the incumbent President to be his successor in the White House. It must also be noted, however, that Al Gore appears to actually be the choice of the vast majority of the rank-and-file within the Democratic Party; the siege mentality engendered in Bill Clinton supporters by almost constantly- over the past nearly eight years- having to deflect the slings and arrows of Republican attacks on the flaws and foibles of the President has also transferred over to Clinton's No. 2 quite well, further dampening Bradley's chances to wrest the big prize waiting this Summer in L.A. away from the Vice President.
But what really hurt Bill Bradley more than all of this- which would have doomed his campaign anyway- was the fact that he had to actually, as things turned out (and rather unexpectedly, too!), take on a Republican- John McCain- while he was still battling Al Gore for the Democratic nomination. Bradley's only real chance lay in an ability to get Independents and disaffected Democrats (those disappointed in Al Gore as their party's only viable choice) to vote for him in Open and Modified Open primaries; they, instead, seem to be flocking to McCain- a further sign that Bradley's campaign lacked the dynamic he would need to even begin to seriously think about overcoming that huge hurdle of Unpledged PLEOs Gore would almost surely collect in the Roll Call of the States come the Presidential Nomination vote at the Convention. It was always Al Gore's nomination to lose, not Bradley's to win- and the Vice President, evidently, has not been losing it!
There has already been a lot of second guessing on the part of Bradley's disappointed supporters: many in the bigger states voting come 7 March thought the New Jerseyan spent an inordinate amount of time out in Washington, a state that wasn't even allocating pledged delegates; I am sure many of them point to Bradley's 65 to 34 drubbing at the hands of the Vice President in the voting in the Evergreen State on Tuesday [29 February] as the apologia for their disapprobation. I, however, do not think the criticism of the former New Jersey Senator is justified at all: Washington (even though it were an Advisory primary) was, to Bill Bradley, what Michigan was to John McCain a week earlier- a place to get that much needed electoral victory that would make the challenger a viable alternative to the front-runner, such viability only accessible through just such a primary win; unlike McCain, of course, Bradley didn't get the win he so desperately needed.
So now we pretty much know- even as Bill Bradley limps on into Super Tuesday- who the Democratic candidate for President will, in fact, be come 7 November and it will not be Bill Bradley! But it wasn't ever going to be Bill Bradley anyway.
"Standing at the cross road
John McCain's cross road is a little different from Bill Bradley's: he still has an outside chance at the Republican presidential nomination- but only just! His 53-44 loss to Bush in Virginia on Tuesday [29 February] shows that the Arizonan could not do better than his performance in South Carolina ten days earlier and that he remains weak in the South in general and among rank-and-file Southern Republicans in particular- it also begs the question of just how much pull McCain still has among Independents; the 58-38 loss to Bush in Washington is even more damaging, as it brings into question just how much pull McCain would have among rank-and-file Republicans outside the South. In a week, McCain has watched a 29 delegate lead in the delegate count on "The Green Papers" turn into a 73 delegate deficit.
A lot has been made of McCain shooting himself in the foot in the Old Dominion by attacking the so-called "religious Right" so hard, but I think that this was more the Arizonan- probably realizing that gaining Virginia's 56 winner-take-all delegates was a lost cause- trying to make a strong pitch to the non-hard core Right Republican in the less conservative states outside the South, many of whom will be voting come Super Tuesday. It has, however, all the earmarks of a loser's gambit- a last ditch effort to salvage at least some victory from the jaws of defeat. As I have already stated in previous Commentaries, most of the GOP contests on 7 March are winner-take-all in some form or fashion and- like the Democrats' Unpledged "Superdelegates"- this tends to benefit the front-runner, not a challenger (one of the reasons a South Dakota Senator named George McGovern chaired the 1970 reforms which did ultimately did away with Winner-Take-All in the Democratic Party's pre-Convention process: now tell me the name of the Democratic presidential nominee two years thereafter?).
The Senator from Arizona could even do very well in state after state next Tuesday and still only pick up a relative handful of delegates, falling further and further behind Texas Governor George W. Bush; in a sense, John McCain faces the same technical (and tactical) problem- albeit in different form- Bill Bradley was already facing back when I wrote my first Commentary "NO LONGER A MONEY PLAYER" last 2 November. John McCain has already been the marvel of this pre-Convention "season" by bobbing back up to the surface twice already after previously being swamped each time by a George W. Bush wake. The question now is, come Super Tuesday 7 March, does the Arizonan go down a third- and final- time?