- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

When Al Gore gave his business-bashing, class-warfare speech to the Democratic National Convention this summer, the head of the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council predicted that the vice president's strategy would fail.

Mr. Gore's deeply divisive, powerful-vs.-the-powerless speech shocked and depressed Al From, who for two decades has worked to yank the party away from its leftist, anti-business, class-envy, big-government roots. Mr. From supported Mr. Gore and would do so in the campaign, but he told friends in the media that the attempts to pit one economic group against another and portray big business as the enemy of the people would not work. "I guarantee it," Mr. From said. Of course he was right.

With DLC Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman on the ticket, Mr. From and other top DLC strategists remained silent throughout the campaign. But last week, they resumed their war with the party's left wing, charging that Mr. Gore's retro, leftist message was the chief reason for his narrow defeat that it had driven away the very voters he need to win the presidency.

"Bush won the white working class (people making between $35,000 and $75,000 a year) by 13 points. The message does not seem to have prevailed with the group it was supposed to be aimed at," said Will , who helped to found the DLC organization that backed Bill Clinton's rise to the presidency.

Mr. Gore's business-hating, anti-wealth message - attacking the oil, health-care, drug and insurance companies sounded more like Walter Mondale than President Clinton. It was old-economy politics instead of the new Internet, investor-class economy politics.

Such leftist, social-welfare red meat played to educated academic elites and the party's urban, labor-union and low-income minority base, but not to the swing, independent, suburban, middle-class, middle-American voters who own stock in corporate America.

"It's no secret that I think the populism approach hurt us with critical swing voters, particularly wired voters and men in the new economy. We were hurt because we were viewed in this election as being too liberal and too much in favor of big government," Mr. From said at a press briefing last week.

Mark Penn, who polls for Mr. Clinton, said Mr. Gore's "populist message is by itself a limiting message… . It had a lot of negative resonance with precisely the voters Gore had to win to get above 50 percent on Election Day."

Mr. Gore, with a strong, high-employment economy behind him, was unable to rise above that threshold. Much has been made of his edge in the popular vote, though the race ended in a statistical tie that contains important voting trends that do not bode well for the Democrats.

Mr. Gore won 90 percent of the black vote with deeply disturbing racial appeals, but there's not much, if any, growth there for Democrats in the future. In fact, with younger, professional blacks identifying themselves as independents, there are opportunities for the GOP to appeal to these upwardly mobile, more entrepreneurial voters, who like school-choice vouchers and private Social Security investment accounts.

Elsewhere, Mr. Bush made significant inroads into the Democrats' base constituencies, winning one-third of the Hispanic vote, 41 percent of the Asian vote and 36 percent of the union household vote.

But it was Mr. Gore's weakness among white voters that reflected the utter failure of his liberal, big-government, business-bashing pitch. He won only 43 percent of whites compared with 53 percent for George W. Bush. Notably, he scored 10 percent higher among men.

In a high-tech, Internet era of growing affluence among America's new-economy voters, Mr. Gore's cultural-warfare, smoke-stack populism has lost its appeal. Mr. From and Mr. Marshall note that almost all of the 22 million new jobs over the past eight years are in non-manufacturing sectors, with the income-range ratio tilting in favor of higher-income jobs.

A look at a county-by-county election map of the country shows that Mr. Gore's votes came mostly from heavily concentrated urban areas in the Northeast and industrial Midwest. Mr. Bush's vote, on the other hand, was more broadly spread across the country, sweeping the entire South and virtually all of the Western plains and mountain states and parts of the Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana and Missouri.

In all, Mr. Bush carried 30 states to Mr. Gore's 20. Mr. Bush won a whopping 2,434, or 78 percent of all the counties, while Mr. Gore's vote was restricted to 677 heavily populated counties. Wall Street economic analyst Larry Kudlow notes that Mr. Bush largely won in new-economy states in the West and South, while Mr. Gore won in old-economy, population-losing states such as New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, which cling to old, big-government, liberal models.

So expect more criticism from the DLC and other conservative, centrist-leaning Democrats who think that Mr. Gore's divisive message is the political kiss of death for their party. Blue Dog Democrats in the House were openly complaining about Mr. Gore's performance last week, vowing to re-assert themselves in the new year and suggesting that they can work with Mr. Bush on tax policy and other issues.

"We've got to change our message," Democratic Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas told me.

Thus, while the national news media has been forecasting dissension between Mr. Bush and the Republicans, the real postelection war is likely to be among the Democrats.

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