Sunday, March 05, 2000

E N Q U I R E R   E N D O R S E M E N T S

Dems: Go for Gore
        If character were the sole measure of the candidates in the Democratic presidential primaries, Bill Bradley would outscore Al Gore in a runaway blowout. Mr. Gore has been tainted by Clinton sleaze, a campaign fund-raising scandal ("No controlling legal authority”) and a disturbing habit of gross exaggeration. Yet he has proved himself the more determined campaigner, and that has made the difference.

        In the New Hampshire primary, running on almost nothing but character, Mr. Bradley came within 4 percentage points of Mr. Gore, a sitting vice president. But since then, the former New Jersey senator's campaign has strayed far off course. He has shown a puzzling disinclination to defend himself or plunge into the sweaty political fray as a come-from-behind contender must.

        In the National Basketball Association and in the U.S. Senate, Mr. Bradley championed equal opportunity and denounced discriminatory practices. He has stumped for health insurance coverage for the have-nots. Yet in this 2000 campaign, he has shown none of the all-star competitive passion that characterized his pro basketball career. He runs as if he thinks he is too good for politics.

        Character includes building enough “fire in the belly” to fight for what you believe in, and in that contest, Mr. Bradley comes up strangely short.

        Vice President Gore has built his political career on protecting the environment, courting unions and encouraging technological advances such as the Internet. His preparation and grasp of technical details and public policy is nothing less than uncanny.

        Mr. Gore led the Clinton adminis tration's Reinventing Government project to cut government waste. It has been a disappointing effort, but nobody ever said federal government reform was going to be a quick fix.

        After some flip-flopping years ago, Mr. Gore is now solidly pro-abortion. He says he will insist that workers' rights and environmental protections be included in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in trade agreements. He opposed school vouchers and favors targeted tax cuts. On most issues, The Enquirer opposes Mr. Gore's positions.

        But in eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee and seven years as vice president, Mr. Gore has helped achieve some solid victories for the environment and been one of the most closely engaged vice presidents during a period of remarkable economic prosperity. Mr. Gore has dedicated, loyal support from labor and African-Americans.

        There is no lack of smarts in this Ivy League contest between Harvard grad Al Gore and Bill Bradley from Princeton. It is not lost on Mr. Gore that his biggest obstacle to ending up in the Oval Office is the man who now presides there. That message is reinforced by the candidacy of Bill Bradley.

        Although Mr. Bradley may be trounced on Super Tuesday, Mr. Gore should get the message Character counts.

        If there is anything Mr. Gore should take away from likely victory, it is that the Princeton man prodded the Harvard man toward the Al Gore that still could be. It is that Al Gore whom we urge voters to choose in Ohio's March 7 Democratic primary.

GOP: Back Bush
        If the Republican presidential primaries were a contest of biographies, it would be no contest. John McCain is the only genuine hero in the race, and his patriotism and iconoclastic calls for reform have energized the campaign and elevated the debate.

        Who could not be charmed by a man who campaigns with the same grace and good humor he demonstrated so courageously as a POW in Vietnam?

        But George W. Bush has something that matters more. Not five years in a Hanoi prison like Mr. McCain, but six years as governor of Texas, a state larger than many foreign nations. And during that time, he has steadily built a solid reputation as a leader who delivers results.

        No doubt Mr. Bush has had advantages as the son of a president. But a famous father can't do what he has done in Texas, to cut taxes, improve schools, reduce welfare and build loyalty among Hispanics and blacks.

        By comparison, Mr. McCain's 17 years in the Senate have left him little to boast about. The highlights are his quixotic crusades against tobacco and campaign finance abuses; the low-light is his involvement in the Keating Five influence-peddling scandal involving former Cincinnatian Charles Keating.

        That uproar tarnished Mr. McCain's integrity, somewhat unfairly. “What I did was wrong,” he told The Enquirer editorial board. “But I had Charlie Keating thrown out of my office.”

        Mr. McCain has always been fiercely independent. But that strength is also his weakness. He has so little support among his Senate colleagues — only three support him — that it's hard to imagine how he could govern as president and rally support from his own party, much less Democrats.

        Mavericks are good for our system, good for the campaigns, but not always good for the presidency.

        That's not a problem with Mr. Bush. Although he has been labeled “the establishment candidate,” the up-side is his nearly unanimous support from Republican governors and members of the House and Senate. His record in Texas is impressive, including re-election with the endorsement of key Democrats — unheard of these days.

        “I will be the right man to lead the Republican Party to victory. I come from outside Washington, but I don't divide people,” he told us.

        “I can unite our party without abandoning principles, and build a base without destroying our foundations.”

        Mr. McCain has run an ingenious campaign, attracting independents and cross-over Democrats while appealing to young and alienated voters. Mr. McCain is a solid conservative, but when he talks about taxes he sounds like Al Gore.

        Mr. Bush has run the less impressive campaign, but remains more faithful to core principles that match the philosophy of his party, with a fresh dose of “compassionate conservatism” that can appeal to non-Republicans who want an alternative to four more years of Clinton/Gore.

        Republicans have two fine choices, two good men. Mr. McCain is a hero who makes our nation proud, but Mr. Bush has walked the walk to achieve visible results. That is a measure of character too.

        We urge voters to choose George W. Bush in the March 7 Ohio primary.