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Battle of the Vice Presidents

By Mark Kittel

This election year may become known as the Battle of the Vice Presidents. Keep a copy of this article somewhere in your archives and check the history books in twenty or thirty years – I’ll even bet money on it (of course a $100 bet now won’t even buy you a tank of gas by then).

Our choices for president this year are unappealing, uninviting, uninspiring, and unlikable. One man has trouble clearly defining what he stands for, what his vision is, what he would change and why. The other has lost his optimistic vision, has no plan to change his policies and does not understand why changes are necessary, and has a four year record so shaky that he cannot get elected simply by touting his accomplishments.

Both candidates are so unattractive that both sides have been playing tug-of-war over Ralph Nader in a misguided effort to swing the election. The Kerry campaign, of course, would like to see Nader drop out of the race entirely, still clinging to the belief that Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election and that he could end up taking enough votes from Kerry to hand Bush a victory. To which Nader essentially replies: if Kerry is so weak that I can have that effect, why didn’t you field a stronger candidate that wouldn’t have to worry? (This, of course, was exactly Al Gore’s problem.)

But Bush supporters are apparently concerned that Nader might not stay in the race, and therefore shift enough votes back to Kerry to swing the election the other direction. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington recently planned to file complaints against the Oregon Family Council and Citizens for a Sound Economy, two conservative groups that CREW accuses of illegally helping Ralph Nader’s campaign. Both groups are alleged to have made campaign donations to Nader’s campaign (as corporations, they are not permitted to do so) and to have attempted to influence Nader’s petition drive in Oregon to help him get on the ballot. Both groups have admitted to the latter, stating that they are trying to get Nader on the ballot in the hopes that enough people will vote for Nader instead of John Kerry, potentially swinging the state for Bush in November.

If Bush were a stronger president with a stronger record of real accomplishments, he would not need to worry about Nader sapping votes from Kerry – he could simply win states outright, with or without that slim margin. But his record is what it is, and that means that supporters are looking for ways to swing the election beyond the president himself.

Alfonse D’Amato proposed another way to swing the election in Bush’s favor: replace Dick Cheney in the V.P. spot. This, of course, is not a new idea at all. For a few months campaign managers have been analyzing poll numbers and found that Dick Cheney is a major drag on the ticket, enough to actually cause concern for the president’s re-election. Cheney did not help matters with his foul-mouthed comment to Senator Leahy, and compounded the problem by stating that he felt good about it afterward. Cheney projects dark negativity wherever he goes or speaks now; he may be respected and feared, but those traits work in a dictatorship, not in a democracy.

What is interesting to note about D’Amato’s proposal is not what he proposed, but when he proposed it. His statement came within a day of Kerry’s public choice of John Edwards. That speaks volumes about the sudden importance of the number 2 spot.

The Kerry campaign, as we’ve all seen, has been languishing in “gloom and doom” for many weeks, without a focused message or platform to put on display. Kerry lacks the charisma and optimism that helped propel Reagan and Clinton into the White House; his wealth and privilege contribute to his inability to connect himself with the American voter. Enter John Edwards, a young senator bursting with charm, optimism, and visual appeal, who also happens to have lived the classic “rags-to-riches” story that most Americans dream of living. Not only does Edwards inject life into the charisma of the campaign, he also brings the promise of finally focusing the campaign’s message to the American voter.

Edwards is not likely to change the minds of potential voters; many pollsters have already noted that the majority of registered voters have already chosen their preferred candidate, with a relatively small number of independent voters still up for grabs. What he is likely to do is motivate voters to get to the polls on November 2nd, and that is where the real difference will be made.

The main reason many people (especially non-Democrats) intend to vote for Kerry is that he is not George Bush, and they don’t want Bush to stay in the White House. They don’t particularly want Kerry as president, but he’s the only viable alternative they have. That’s not much of a motivation to rush to the voting booths on Election Day, and Kerry has so far been unable to give potential voters any other reasons to get out the vote. Edwards provides that for Kerry. He not only has the charm and appeal that can generate enthusiasm for Kerry (not merely against Bush), but he also will help shape and refine the message and platform that the Democratic ticket desperately needs – and that too will determine whether enough undecided or barely decided voters show up on Election Day.

Thus, the reason D’Amato made his comments. By himself, Bush is a weak candidate with little to tout in terms of real, tangible accomplishments. Gone are Bush’s optimism and promises of ending partisan politics; gone too are any illusions that Bush would govern as a moderate conservative. Fiscal conservatives are wary of re-electing a president that has run up both the budget deficit and the national debt; fundamentalist Christians are disappointed that the president hasn’t been strong enough to push their agenda, especially the nearly doomed Federal Marriage Amendment; many other conservatives have serious doubts about the president’s foreign policy and his ability to protect our foreign interests. The main reason many people have to vote for Bush is simply that he’s not John Kerry – they don’t particularly want four more years of Bush, but he’s the only viable alternative they have. For Bush, this is a more serious problem than the similar problem Kerry has, because the hatred of Bush in this country is much stronger than any hatred of John Kerry, and that margin of hatred will push more anti-Bush voters to the polls than anti-Kerry voters.

(That’s a frightening vision – elections determined by a margin of hatred. But I digress.)

Cheney simply compounds those problems and does nothing to add balance to the Republican ticket. In 2000, he added substance and experience to a ticket that only had energy and glib optimism going for it. He offset George’s obvious fundamentalist leanings with a “state’s rights, hands off” approach to social issues. Now, Cheney’s grim and joyless attitude is the pervasive mood in the White House, and Cheney’s beliefs in fiscal restraint and state’s rights have been subordinated to loyalty to the president’s misguided policies. His questionable ties to Halliburton hurt Bush’s image, and his “feel-good” use of the F word will turn many conservative Christians off. It’s not that potential voters will choose to vote against Bush because of Cheney – they will simply not be motivated to actually get out to vote.

D’Amato’s suggestion is to replace Cheney with either John McCain or Colin Powell. The choices are hardly surprising. Choosing McCain would clearly signal an intent to reign in the reckless spending of the past four years and a shift further to the center in terms of social issues; it would also keep Arizona, a state that might otherwise tilt for Kerry, firmly in Republican hands. Choosing Powell would signal an intent to abandon the ruinous “pre-emptive war” approach to foreign policy and would appeal to many who thought that Powell should have been Bush’s running mate four years ago.

Neither choice would likely sway voters to suddenly choose Bush over Kerry, although McCain could potentially appeal to Republicans with serious thoughts of abandoning Bush altogether. Just as voters can’t actually choose John Edwards, they wouldn’t actually choose John McCain. But either choice could potentially re-energize voters and motivate them to get out the vote. With most of the electorate’s decisions already made, the critical element will be to get those voters to actually cast a ballot.

Would Bush actually replace Cheney? At one time I thought the answer was solidly no, Bush owes Cheney far too much and the Bush family members are notable for their loyalty to friends and allies. But the timing of D’Amato’s comments is curious, coming so close on the Edwards announcement. I have a strong suspicion that Karl Rove put D’Amato up to this, or at least politely asked him to make the statement, as a way of seeing what the reaction would be and whether replacing Cheney was less of a risk than replacing him. I would not be surprised at all if Cheney “voluntarily” stepped aside for the good of the party.

The risk, of course, is that it looks like a desperation move, and Rove is not inclined to admit to any kind of weakness. It also risks putting off the fundamentalist Christian base that Bush relied on so heavily in 2000, because either choice signals a pull back toward the center on social issues. Neither Bush nor Rove will want to make a move that will erode that critical support.

Which likely leaves Election 2004 as a match-up not between Kerry and Bush, but between Edwards and Cheney. Edwards will ratchet up the enthusiasm for voting Democratic, Cheney will end up suppressing that enthusiasm for Bush. Thus, although the country may be polarized and nearly evenly divided into Blue camp and Red camp, Kerry will win in a landslide – simply because not enough people cared to show up for Bush.

Mark Kittel is a contributing writer for the Moderate Republican. He lives in New York State.

If Jim Edgar Married Geri Ryan

By Charlie Mehler

It happened in California last year, and could have happened in Illinois this year as well. Maybe it could happen in your state. God willing.

In California, we’re talking about the ascendancy of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Through the recall process, this fiscally conservative, socially moderate Hollywood superstar had the good fortune to avoid a Republican primary, and easily defeated all comers to become governor of California. As we saw in 2002, when fiscally conservative, socially moderate former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan ran for governor against the more socially conservative Bill Simon (you remember – the guy who actually LOST to Grey Davis!), even good press doesn’t help much in a Republican primary, where socially-conservative whackos rule the roost. Yes, Arnold is sexier and more popular than Richard Riordan. But in a real primary, the socially moderate Arnold would have had the fight of his life at the hands of the conservative wing of the California GOP.

Never mind that no far-right conservative Republican has won statewide office in California since the era of George Murphy, Sam Hayakawa and Ronald Reagan in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The state is solid “blue” on the presidential electoral map. California even gave Al Gore the kind of super-majority that allowed the former vice president to win the popular vote nationwide in 2000. The only way for a Republican to win statewide in California is at least to give the impression of social moderation. This fact of life is lost on the right-wing of the GOP in California.

This fact of life also seems to have been lost on Illinois Republicans. Let’s do a quick rehash of recent history: In March, billionaire-turned-schoolteacher Jack Ryan won a hotly contested Illinois Republican primary to run for the seat being given up by retiring GOP Senator Peter Fitzgerald. You may remember Fitzgerald as the very conservative fellow who beat Carol Moseley-Braun (or, as she is known derisively, Carol “Mostly-Fraud”) after she got in trouble for campaign irregularities and other sundry petty crimes. Word on the street has it that the Bush White House convinced Fitzgerald to step down because he was too conservative to win a second term, what with no Moseley-Braun pariah running.

Jack Ryan (not to be confused with George Ryan, the socially moderate former governor who got in trouble for selling phony truck-driving licenses while serving as Illinois Secretary of State, or Jim Ryan, the former Illinois Attorney General who lost to current Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2002, at least in part for kow-towing to the social right after previous hints of being a social moderate) . . . Let’s start this over again: Jack Ryan then got in trouble when the Chicago Tribune and ABC-7 News got a judge to release his previously unpublicized divorce records. These records revealed that Ryan’s ex-wife, Star Trek actress Geri Ryan (none of these Ryans are related by blood) had accused Jack Ryan of attempting to coerce her into having sex in public, at a club in Paris set up for such things. Jack Ryan was subsequently forced to resign from the ticket.

Here, then, was the ideal opportunity for the Illinois Republican Party to “pull a Schwarzenegger.” In other words, they could have chosen a moderate candidate who couldn’t have survived the primary process, but who could have won in the fall. Instead, at this writing, they seem to have chosen far-right conservative radio talk-show host and former U.N. Ambassador Alan Keyes.

You may remember Keyes as one of the nay-sayers to the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for U.S. Senate in New York. At the time, Keyes called Mrs. Clinton a “carpetbagger.” I should mention that Keyes lives in Maryland, and has absolutely no connection to Illinois.

But “carpetbagging” may be the least of Keyes’ problems. He is running against the Democrats’ answer to Denzel Washington, State Senator Barack Obama, of recent Democratic National Convention fame and accolade. Obama was already creaming Jack Ryan in the polls, even before the divorce news hit the airwaves.

The moderate Republican in each of us wants to knock on the door of state party chairwoman and Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, herself a moderate and the only Republican to be elected to statewide in 2002, and cry, “What on God’s green earth were you thinking?” There is no way that someone as conservative as Alan Keyes will carry Illinois, a solid-“blue” state, in the fall.

We have seen it time and time again over the past decade. From Bill Weld in Massachusetts to Rudy Giuliani in New York to Arnold in California, the GOP has made inroads in the “blue,” strongly Democratic states, by appealing to moderate, independent voters who shun the socially right-wing views of much of the Republican base, in favor of social moderates who can also discuss the detriments of the “nanny-state” intelligently.

There is no question that Keyes was chosen, at least in part, because he is an African-American, as is Obama. This as-good-as guarantees that an African-American will replace Peter Fitzgerald, who in turn replaced African-American Carol Moseley Braun in 1998. On many levels, this is a good thing, and certainly a clever marketing ploy on the part of the Illinois Republican Party.

But again, the Illinois Republican party has shot itself in the foot for failing to take the opportunity to nominate a fiscally conservative, socially moderate candidate like U.S. Representative Judy Biggert, or U.S. Representative Mark Kirk, or former Governor Jim Edgar, or former Governor Jim Thompson.

Which begs the question: If Jim Edgar married Geri Ryan, would he be Jim Ryan? It all seems so incestuous.

Charlie Melher is a contributing writer for the Moderate Republican. He divides his time between Chicago and Louisiana.

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