- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

''Titanic Tuesday's" unequivocal primary and caucus results involving 16 states for the Democratic Party and 13 states for the Republican Party will soon confirm what many predicted well over a year ago: The November presidential election will almost certainly feature Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush as the nominees of the two major parties. However, over the past year, each experienced moments when the once-presumed inevitability of their nominations seemed increasingly, and unexpectedly, problematic.
While Mr. Gore's campaign lost direction last year, former Sen. Bill Bradley mounted a successful fund-raising drive and benefited from a surge in favorable publicity. Still, Mr. Gore, who was overwhelmingly supported by Democratic office-holders and who picked up the endorsement of organized labor, continued to enjoy large national leads over Mr. Bradley among likely Democratic voters. But Mr. Bradley briefly achieved double-digit polling leads over Mr. Gore in New Hampshire, a development that might have seriously wounded Mr. Gore, especially if his campaign had not found its way, which it clearly did after Mr. Gore abandoned Washington for Nashville.
Mr. Bradley's failure to respond to the bare-knuckle rhetorical assaults Mr. Gore delivered his way during the initial Democratic debates raised the question of whether he had enough "fire in his belly" to pursue the presidency. After throttling Mr. Bradley in Iowa, Mr. Gore narrowly turned back Mr. Bradley's challenge in New Hampshire, setting up later routs in Washington state and on "Titanic Tuesday." In the meantime, however, Mr. Bradley forced Mr. Gore to move more leftward than he would have preferred to capture the Democratic primaries dominated by the party's liberal constituencies.
If Mr. Gore moved further left than he planned, Mr. Bush, responding to Sen. John McCain's unexpectedly strong challenge from Mr. Bush's left flank, clearly took a sharper right turn than he intended. While one prominent Republican candidate after another left the race before Iowa's January caucuses, Mr. McCain wisely ignored them. And he avoided the hugely disproportionate consequences for those who failed to meet expectations in Iowa's "straw poll" last August. These tactics allowed Mr. McCain to escape any political penalties for his opposition to ethanol subsidies. Mr. McCain, who benefited from a priceless barrage of free media adulation, decisively defeated Mr. Bush by 19 points in New Hampshire, challenging Mr. Bush's seeming inevitability.
Finally, Mr. Bush fought back. Hard. He challenged Mr. McCain for misrepresenting his policies. He went to work solidifying the conservative base of the Republican Party while Mr. McCain intentionally antagonized much of it. Mr. McCain also badly miscalculated when he sabotaged his own image of probity and exposed a mean-spirited side by attempting to convince South Carolina's Republicans that Mr. Bush was as "untrustworthy" as President Clinton. After initiating negative attack ads in South Carolina, Mr. McCain hardly seems in a position to complain about the Bush campaign's New York ads attacking Mr. McCain's commitment to breast cancer research. The ads were demonstrably unfair nonetheless.
Moreover, Mr. McCain's attacks in Virginia upon the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, while welcomed by the liberal media, proved to be the beginning of the end for his campaign. Mr. Bush crushed him in the Virginia, North Dakota and Washington state Republican primaries last week. And this week, Mr. Bush delivered what could well be the fatal blow to Mr. McCain's presidential aspirations this year. Mr. Bush not only bested Mr. McCain among California Republicans; he convincingly beat him in the Golden State's beauty contest that permitted Democrats and independents to vote for Republicans. Mr. Bush crushed Mr. McCain in Ohio (58-37), Maryland (56-36) and Missouri (58-35); and he beat him convincingly in New York (51-43). It was very convincing performance.
To win in November, Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore must not only energize their bases. They must also appeal to the center. In his victory speech Tuesday night, Mr. Gore let the Republicans know what to expect henceforth. "If you believe in a just and tolerant society," the vice president intoned, "and not in the politics of division, I say join us now." As Mr. Bush continues to encourage those in the political center to find their place in his Republican Big Tent, he will be practicing the politics of inclusion. After all, how else could a Republican manage to win a landslide re-election in Texas, which included 49 percent of the Hispanic vote, nearly 70 percent of the total vote and the endorsement of the Democratic lieutenant governor? Certainly not by exploiting the "politics of division," which more aptly describes the distribution among Democratic constituency groups of the tribute extracted from the body politic.

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