Sunday, February 06, 2000

Bauer ends run with style


Pancake mishap won't stop him

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Gary Bauer drops out of a race, he really DROPS out of a race.

        Mr. Bauer — the Newport native, former Reagan administration official and champion of Christian conservative right causes — mercifully ended his improbable bid for the Republican presidential nomination Friday after pulling just 1 percent of the vote in last Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

        Mr. Bauer's candidacy hit the wall — make that the floor — the day before the vote.

        He was taking part in a pancake cook-off, one of those dreadful political events in which candidates try to show they actually know how regular Americans go about their lives.

        You know the drill. George W. Bush drove a snowplow last week in New Hampshire. Politicians throw out first pitches at baseball games. Michael Dukakis once rode in a tank.

        So there was Mr. Bauer, spatula in hand, smiling and cooking his conservative heart out when he took a step back and, boom, he was gone, off the back of the stage like he just got booted from The Gong Show.

        Mr. Bauer's slip turned into a full slide right out of the campaign. He fell off the stage — in front on a national TV audience, mind you — and, just a few short hours later, out of the arena of presidential politics, thanks to the voters of New Hamp shire.

        Too bad. It's a shame the most enduring image of Mr. Bauer's 10-month campaign with be a memorable clip like one of those “funniest” home video shows, the kind where dad is always getting whacked in the groin by junior's whiffle ball, or grandma, tipsy from a few too many Bud Lights at a family wedding, slips on the dance floor while the camcorder rolls.

        Because having a presidential candidate from Northern Kentucky — one who was a constant on the cable talk shows, an excellent debater and a solid performer in Iowa — was, in a word, cool.

        There he was: Gary Bauer, the pride of Newport High, sparring with George Bush and Steve Forbes on the CNN debate, chatting with voters in a New Hampshire restaurant on C-SPAN, shaking hands with John McCain on the pages of USA Today.

        He was easy to deal with, a great interview, a gracious and articulate pol who knew his issues, was quick on his feet and wasn't afraid to laugh at himself.

        Many of his views were not in the mainstream, a notion confirmed by voters in two states over the past three weeks.

        To the average person, abortion, China and not giving special rights to homosexuals isn't as important as Social Security, a strong economy and education. Mr. Bauer did, of course, have platforms on other issues, but voters looked elsewhere in the field for how to best deal with them.

        Mr. Bauer did seem to grow more comfortable and adept at being a candidate for president.

        His announcement speech, delivered before an enthusiastic crowd at his alma mater in Newport, was heavy on dark themes like the tragic shootings that had occurred a day earlier at Colorado's Columbine High School.

        Though he never strayed far from his platform of erasing the “virtue deficit” in America, Mr. Bauer did begin to win some hearts.

        He was the butt of some of the jokes during the late night talk shows — a sure sign a politician has made it in this country — and, along with Alan Keyes, kept the pressure on GOP front-runner Bush to talk about some of the issues important to social conservatives.

        Mr. Bauer also gave Newport something to be proud of. While he talked at length about his blue-collar upbringing in the place that used to be known as Sin City, he never really beat up on the place.

        His mother still lives in Newport and he seemed to have a genuine fondness for the community where he was raised.

        Don't think for a minute that Mr. Bauer will disappear from the national political scene like other hopeless presidential hopefuls of recent memory such as Pete duPont, Gary Hart and Morry Taylor.

        Mr. Bauer is going to be around, bugging the GOP to make his favorite issues part of the platform as the Republicans roll into the general election later this year.

        Beyond that he could emerge, and probably will, as one of the leading conservative spokesman in America on hard conservative politics, the place reporters go when they want a quick quote on an issue.

        There is a void to be filled in that area. Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, is working as a political consultant. Jerry Falwell is worried about the casual wear of Tele Tubbies. Pat Robertson is on TV praying for a viewer's sinus condition to improve.

        In fact, some cynics — me included — believe Mr. Bauer's purpose in running for president was to keep issues like abortion in the forefront of Republican politics while carving out a nice, powerful niche for himself as the go-to-guy of the right wing crowd.

        He'd better stay in politics. A gig as a short-order cook is definitely out.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at crowleys@cinci.infi.net.