This year is beginning to look ominously Dolish for the Dems. There are signs everywhere that the Gore campaign is waiting for the vet to come in and put it to sleep. It is resorting to flimsy rationalizations to explain away consistent bad news. Gallup issues a press release showing that George Dubya has led Gore in every single poll taken this election cycle. Do the Gore people say, "That's okay, the momentum is with us"? Nope. They say stuff like, "Um, um... Texas is a really big state and so if you take out Texas' votes...um, um...you find out that Bush's actual lead isn't 6 points, it's 5.2." Donna Brazile loves to talk this way. So does CNN's Janus-headed pollster Bill Schneider. Of course, if you subtract Gore's larger-than-necessary leads in New York and California, you get right back to the 6-point drubbing in the rest of the country. Donna and Bill seem never to mention that.
What should be scaring Gore witless is his margin in swing states. Not just those Midwestern "battleground" states, where he's in hot water, but also the liberal states that he shouldn't even have to give a second thought to campaigning in. In Connecticut, for instance?a state that will not elect another Republican senator until Armageddon?Gore is 1 point ahead. In Minnesota?the only state to have voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1976?he's 2 points ahead.
Look at the money picture, and you'll see another problem. Gore has raised less than Bush, who's hauled in $90 million and is expecting another $68 million after the convention. But both will break records. Bush could raise four times what Bob Dole did. We can leave aside the campaign-finance-reform discussion for one column. What ought to frighten Gore is that there is one measure of financial support that tends to correlate with electoral support: the money raised from small donors (less than $250). These are not lobbyists looking for legislative breaks; they're the housewives in the St. Louis suburbs who just decide they like candidate X enough to write him a check for 50 bucks. Republicans always have a bit of an edge with these people, but according to the latest FEC reports, Dubya has outraised Gore among such contributors by 5-to-1. He's raised $2.6 million, as against barely half a mil for Gore.
Gore's vote-anemia in the ranks of the little guy can be measured in other ways, too. Ruy Teixeira, the leftist (but superbly reliable) pollster who just turned an excellent set of data into a book on the voting habits of the white working class, announced at a Brookings Institution symposium that Gore was polling at 32 percent among white males without a college degree. That's almost a third of the country.
And people in my class?white males who didn't deserve their college degrees?don't think much of him, either.
One Divine Hammer On top of that, you get the rising price of gasoline, which is hitting hardest in the states that Gore has to win. This issue damages Gore more than Bush, for reasons that are a bit complicated. First, Gore and his Democratic confreres have had to admit tacitly that when it comes to an energy crunch, Republican policies work best. Indiana's Democratic governor, Frank O'Bannon, has activated an emergency policy that allows him to suspend the state's gas tax for a period of months. The problem is that Gore is for higher taxes on gasoline, and has always been a vocal defender of the gas hikes in President Clinton's 1993 budget deal. This election season, he's demanding a Federal Trade Commission probe into allegations of price-gouging.
The impression left in the mind of Joe Voter is that Gore says: My policies are perfect until they actually start affecting things, at which point my opponent's policies are better. This is exactly what happened to François Mitterrand when he assumed the presidency of France in 1981, implemented a hardline socialist program and as soon as France saw the slightest economic downturn, pushed for government-slashing reforms to rival Margaret Thatcher's. Gore, like Mitterrand, winds up looking like a political pseud.
On the oil issue, Democrats think they're inoculated, because Bush is, as House Minority Whip David Bonior puts it, "Mr. Oil." Well, maybe, in a way. One of the appalling episodes in Bush's father's presidency came when George the Elder appeared before a group of Texas businessmen to express his gratitude that he'd had a chance to make it in the oil business. Only he said: "d'awrl bidniss." Just like they taught him at Andover! "Ah be in d'awrl bidniss!"
So Gore is trying to play the populist on this. "My instincts tell me," he says, "it's probably not a coincidence that [oil companies'] profits have gone up 500 percent at the same time that prices have gone up far higher and faster than they can give an explanation for." Gore's spokesyobbo Chris Lehane?wind him up and set him loose?says almost exactly the same thing. "Profits for oil companies are up 500 percent in the first quarter this year, at the same time you've seen the price of gas go up a dollar, more in parts of the Midwest. It really raises questions of what is going on with the big oil companies."
Well, Chris raises an interesting point there. As it happens, there's a group of Americans in a good position to get answers to those questions: huge shareholders in the big oil companies. One of these, it turns out, is Al Gore.
Gore's father, Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Sr., served for years as one of several Capitol Hill bum-boys for Occidental Petroleum magnate Armand Hammer. Others included FDR's son, James Roosevelt, and New Hampshire Sen. Styles Bridges. According to Gore's biographer Bob Zelnick, their portfolios consisted pretty much of protecting Hammer from the attentions of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who was aware that Hammer had been a Soviet agent for many years. Daddy Gore did everything for Hammer. He arranged a lucrative oil deal with Libya for him. He introduced Hammer to John F. Kennedy.
And, boy, did he get rewarded for it. Hammer contributed to Gore Sr.'s campaigns and poured a small fortune into his wacky cattle business. In 1970, when Gore was defeated by future Republican National Committee Chairman Bill Brock, Hammer appointed him executive vice president of Occidental. And in 1973, he sold the Gore family its farm?the one Al Jr. now fobs off as the Ol' Homestead?for $160,000. That would have been cheap under any circumstances, but there were zinc deposits on the property too, for which young Al continues to receive $20,000 a year. And last Friday, the Washington Times' Bill Sammon reported that Gore still owns at least $500,000 of Occidental Petroleum stock.
All this leaves Gore ideally situated to steer the country out of its crisis on high gas prices. He's our only national political candidate in a position to launch a shareholder suit!