Something fishy's going on

Posted: Sep 20, 2000 12:00 AM
Something fishy appears to be going on in the presidential campaign. If I didn't know better, I would think a conspiracy was afoot among Gore supporters -- and that many Beltway Republicans were part of it. The media are reacting with disbelief to Gore's upsurge in the polls since the GOP convention. Isn't this strange, considering they predicted it? Don't you remember them discounting earlier polls showing Bush ahead, saying voters didn't pay attention until Labor Day? Gore, they said, is predestined to win because the economy is soaring. Besides, a group of genius professors decreed Bush's defeat based on their infallible statistical models. Why are they acting so surprised at Gore's resurgence when they predicted it? Is it because they didn't expect such a dramatic turnaround? Hold on a minute. It's not so clear that Gore has acquired a significant lead; he may not be ahead at all. The polls range from Gore being up by 14 points (which is patently absurd) to Bush being ahead by 3. If polling is a science, can someone explain the disparity in these numbers? Even in the polls showing Gore way ahead in the popular vote, his electoral vote advantage is not substantial. The Battleground poll, which has Bush ahead, is unique in that it is the collaboration of Republican and Democratic strategists. The pollsters don't poll on weekends, believing it's impossible to get accurate results. They also make a genuine effort to measure likely voters. Many analysts seem so constrained by political superstition that they are incapable of escaping into original analysis. Regardless of how many "ironclad" rules have been broken already this campaign season, the media still cling to "conventional wisdom" as if it were astrologically preordained. Thus, I've heard a hundred times that Gore must win because the candidate who is ahead on Labor Day almost always wins. Sadly, many conservatives are falling prey to this melancholy determinism. I don't deny that Gore has built-in advantages. He is an incumbent during times of peace and prosperity. He is backed by the mainstream media, who do his bidding by chasing after bogus and collateral stories ("RATS" and "a--hole"), while decrying the candidates' failure to focus on the issues. The media won't even criticize Gore for ducking them about his latest scandal: the trial lawyer quid pro quo. Nor do they tenaciously pursue him. Though Gore should be disqualified on character grounds alone -- both for enthusiastically endorsing Clinton's worst crimes and committing his own -- he benefits from the true Clinton legacy: a public that has grown cynically numb to scandal. Yet, through all of this, guess who is forging ahead with an undeterred confidence? George W. Bush. Doesn't it say a great deal about Bush's optimism and leadership that he is standing tall right now -- especially given his allies' participation in the pessimism? Bush is trying to get his message out against the biased filter of the media. He has wisely begun to focus on illuminating the contrasts between his and Gore's respective proposals. In a speech to the California Republican convention, Bush portrayed Gore as the big-government Democrat that he is. The sharper Bush can draw these contrasts, the better he will be. Don't believe the media when they tell you the issues (the elitists call them "the internals") favor Gore. If they believed it themselves they wouldn't be concentrating so much energy on non-issues. The media would have you believe that Bush's problems are occurring at a fundamental level -- that he is losing ground in each of the swing states -- and that this trend is driving Gore's reversal. Many political scientists say it is the other way around. A candidate's national momentum will affect his standing in the states. A minor shift in the national momentum could have major consequences in the swing states. Gore has plenty to be worried about. Bush performs best as the underdog. Remember how he responded to the McCain challenge when all the Beltway soothsayers were forecasting his demise? Recently, one Washington publication smugly observed, "The question is no longer whether Gore will win, but rather whether he will win by a coattail-producing margin." Wouldn't it be sweet to see the smirks wiped off their faces in November? Keep the faith.