Jewish World Review Sept. 26 , 2000 / 25 Elul, 5760
You can't get any more simple than that.
If he boots this thing, if he blows a race that he once led by 17 points, the reaction from his fellow Republicans is likely to be savage.
"How many times are we going to nominate a moderate because we're afraid of what the media will say if we nominate a real conservative?" a Republican strategist active in presidential campaigning told me. "What is the historic argument for continuing to nominate moderate Republicans when conservative Republicans give us our big victories?"
Bob Dole's loss in 1996 was bad enough. But at least Dole could say he ran against a popular incumbent president.
What is Bush going to say?
That he ran against a guy who only a few months ago didn't know how to dress himself?
Bush looks into the abyss and sees the bones of his party's past nominees, those men, however good and smart and decent, who will always carry the label of loser.
But he looks across the chasm and sees the promised land. He will not get there because of Al Gore's mistakes; he knows that now. He will only get there through his own hard work over this week, culminating in a killer debate performance, a flawless campaign and a little luck.
Most polls currently have the race tied or Gore ahead narrowly. Where does Gore's lead come from?
Not just from women, as many thought. According to Gallup, since Labor Day, Gore has increased his standing among moderate Republicans by 11 percent and among independents by 26 percent.
But what the future brings is what counts. With Election Day just six weeks away, there is only one dramatic event left that can change a lot of votes: The presidential debates, which reach an enormous audience.
Originally, Bush planned on going into the debates with about a five-point lead in the polls, which meant all he had to do was survive. But now survival is not going to be enough.
"You have to turn off the TV at the end of debate and have doubts about who and what Al Gore is and whether you really trust him," said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "Bush must demonstrate competence and seriousness, and show that he really wants to become president and has something to accomplish."
Oh. Is that all.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill point out that making up ground on Gore is difficult because he is a moving, almost twitching, target. Gore knows what it feels like to be down, and he doesn't want to be there again. It is what some call creative pessimism and what Gore calls "forward engagement."
Last week, for instance, Gore stood in front of a field of 200,000-gallon petroleum tanks in southern Maryland and called on President Clinton to release crude oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help bring down the costs of home heating oil this winter.
Though Bush immediately attacked Gore for yielding to "public outcr,y" public outcry is exactly what Gore wants to respond to, especially if it's the outcry of people facing huge heating bills in critical Rust Belt and Northern states.
Bush battered away at Gore for being outrageously political and was probably not surprised when the administration said it liked Gore's idea so much that it was releasing even more oil than he asked for.
But Gore is not the only opponent Bush faces. Dissent within his own party grows louder.
"That team in Austin, they have run some great campaigns for governor of Texas, but this is not governor of Texas," said one Hill Republican. "They should have been looking for some outside help earlier."
The election is far from over, of course. Bush can and still may win, and some analysts think it is a good sign he is not farther down than he is. "I think he can still win," says Rothenberg. "He has had an awful month, everything has gone wrong, he lost all the advantages he once had, the race has changed in a way to create a favorable dynamic for Gore, but having said all that Bush is still probably down by only 4 to 7 points."
Though Bush denounces the "soft bigotry of low expectations" when it comes to school children, low expectations may be the best thing he has going for him today.
Should he deliver a powerful, dynamic and knowledgeable debate performance, the audience is potentially large enough to turn the election around.
"It's not whether you get knocked down that matters," his campaign manager,
Joe Allbaugh, reminds people. "It's how you pick yourself