Tuesday, December 19, 2000

What-ifs will follow Gore

        Anybody else reminded of Bob Dole during Al Gore's eloquent concession speech Wednesday night?

        Not that the lame duck veep was talking in third person as Mr. Dole is wont to do.

        What was so striking about Mr. Gore's speech was the reaction to it, the same type of reaction Mr. Dole received in the days and weeks after he lost the 1996 race.

        If only Mr. Gore could have loosened up, Democrats said, as he did during his prime time speech Wednesday. If only he could have displayed the same passion and warmth and connection to people on the campaign trail.

        If only ...

        Now do you remember?

        Republicans struggled through the same hand wringing, second-guessing and Monday morning quarterbacking four years ago with Mr. Dole.

        Stoic, often befuddled and disconnected during the campaign - especially when up against a smooth pol such as Bill Clinton — Mr. Dole didn't make points with voters until after the election.

        Remember his appearances on the late night talk shows such as David Letterman's, his self-deprecating humor, his Visa commercial, even his public service-style ads for, of all things, erectile dysfunction?

        There was hardly a Republican in Northern Kentucky who didn't say to me at the time that if Mr. Dole could have conveyed that personality, sense of humor and warmth during the campaign, he certainly would have fared better on Election Day.

        And now we see the same hindsight trained on Mr. Gore.

        Why couldn't he come across as he did last week during that speech, or later at his concession party, where he quaffed bottled beer and jammed with his wife, daughters and a bunch of Hollywood types? Presidential? No. Likable and probably more electable? Heck yes.

        Therein lies one of the secrets to George W. Bush's victory, a win decided not by partisans — they were going to vote for him anyway — but by The Undecideds and the little-informed voters who want to like a president.

        Mr. Bush will never be tied up at a Mensa meeting. Nor will he ever be confused for a policy wonk. But he does come across as pretty much a regular guy.

        Is that genuine? No, not completely. As I've warned and lectured in this space many times, nothing in politics is.

        But at least he — and here's the biggie — comes across that way.

        Bang your head against the wall until it bleeds, but elections aren't totally decided on tax cuts and Social Security and foreign policy and prescription drug benefits.

        All of those issues play a role. But for so many voters, whom they support depends on personal intangibles like what Mr. Bush said on Oprah or Mr. Gore trying to swallow Tipper's head with “the kiss” at the convention.

        In our age of information overload and background searches that would make a proctologist blush, we want to feel like we know a presidential candidate as much as we know about them.

        That's not the way it should be. But that's the way it is.

        E-mail Pcrowley9@home.com.


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