WASHINGTON — I experienced some interesting feelings as I typed in the date on this piece. We writers and pundits will have an emotional ride during the next few weeks as we put pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — for the last time in this century and millennium. The temptations are rife: to be profound, to be reflective, to capture moods or feelings . . . to say something important.
I must confess, I was one of the early millennium buffs. Forget the technicalities that have some of my friends hung up about whether this is really the beginning of a new millennium or not; I bought into Jan. 1, 2000 as a very important date to celebrate several years ago. I was on this project even before the Easter Islands got themselves moved into a different time zone to be the first place for the new millennium to arrive, before the cruise-ship operators concocted their scheme to sail over the international dateline and back to celebrate the same moment twice.
I plotted and I planned. I rejected several ideas. The most compelling rejected plan was one developed by my friend Jim Muldoon. Also an early millennium man, Muldoon rented an island in the eastern Caribbean for the celebration and invited friends to join him. The event has been sold out for months.
My concepts were simple: Be in a place that is interesting, with friends you like to visit with. What else will matter? I ended up with two bookings, one in Madrid and one in Paris. Now, on the eve of the new year, century and millennium, I have chickened out and determined that Washington, D.C. is the place for me to be. Is this a reaction to concerns over what the Y2K bug will do to planes, the threats of terrorists, or whatever? I have no good answer. But I’m staying home and looking forward to joining friends on my balcony to view the great fireworks show that will mark the New Year in Washington. The champagne is already on ice.
Political scientists have noted the recent trend of voters to turn out long-established political leaders. Helmut Kohl, the longtime chancellor of Germany, is just one example of a phenomenon that has circled the political globe. It seems that familiarity and long tenure in office have become the electoral enemies of political leaders of great merit.
I have two good friends who have recently beaten these enemies to extend their terms to record length, continuing their valuable service to electorates widely separated by geography and culture. Jordi Pujol was re-elected president of the Generalitat of Catalonia and Robert Pastrick was re-elected mayor of East Chicago, Indiana.
Pujol was seriously challenged. His opponents recognized the worldwide trend against long-tenured incumbents and went all-out to defeat him. Their candidate was the popular former mayor of Barcelona and they waged a very strong campaign. But in the end, it was Jordi, again.
Pujol is a remarkable man and a remarkable public official. He was trained as a medical doctor and came to politics as a Catalan patriot opposing the restrictions on Catalan culture, language and autonomy imposed by Gen. Franco. Following the death of Franco in 1975 and the proclamation of Juan Carlos I as King of Spain, the road was opened to democracy and in 1980, Jordi Pujol was elected as the 115th president of the historic generalitat. He has served with distinction ever since, guiding his beloved Barcelona into the ranks of the top cities in Europe and transforming Catalonia into the industrial and commercial engine of Southern Europe.
Half a world away, Bob Pastrick was elected to his eighth four-year term as mayor of the city of East Chicago, Indiana. Yes, it is just over the state line east of Chicago — an industrial city with twice as many jobs as people. The city is a true melting pot: One-third of its population is East European ethnic, like its mayor; another third is African American; and another third is of Hispanic origin.
Pastrick started his public service at the bottom of the rung, working for the street department of East Chicago, and rose to be a councilman, then city controller before being elected mayor in 1971. He also served as the chairman of the Democratic Party in heavily Democratic Lake County for more than 25 years and is currently the longest-serving member of the Democratic National Committee.
East Chicago is an anomaly in its region. When one drives across the urban sprawl of northern Lake County through Hammond, Whiting, Gary and other cities, you can tell when you are in East Chicago without seeing the signs. In East Chicago, the streets and sidewalks are clean, the neighborhoods well-managed and the school children well-groomed and well-behaved. It has survived the devastation of downsizing in the steel industry and related industrial companies of the so-called rust bowl, and it thrives. I think its success is simply defined by the continuing and astute leadership of Bob Pastrick.
So let’s hear it for the voters of Catalonia and East Chicago. They know a good thing when they see it and they reward their leaders for good service.
The Republican lineup
We are now just two months away from the beginning of the formal selection process for our next president. The primaries and the caucuses begin in late January and February. The Democratic and Republican processes are somewhat different, but the similarities outweigh the differences. And this year, both parties have bunched the individual state-delegate selection processes into a very compressed time frame. The primary season that used to run from January to June will essentially be finished by March 21. By that time, the big states will have held their primaries and the nominees will be unofficially selected.
Here is the betting line, as of Dec. 1, 1999:
Republicans are likely to select Gov. George W. Bush of Texas as their nominee. He has enormous support — from contributors in terms of a record bankroll, and from political leaders who have been corralled by the Republican governors who united early to push one of their own for the top spot.
After the winnowing of a field of nearly a dozen potential candidates, the remaining challenger for the Republican nomination is Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He is not the only other candidate, but he is the only one who is attracting any attention and support. McCain is giving Bush a run for his money in New Hampshire, the only small state where a candidate can make a mark this year.
But after New Hampshire, then what? The Republican governors have set up a picket line of states that they influence to wipe out any opposition to Bush. By mid-March, Bush will have the nomination locked up and will have a war chest to spend on preparing the electorate for the fall campaign against the Democrats.
Three things impress me about this year’s Republican contest:
1. The dominance of Bush. He is a relative newcomer to national politics, though he has always loomed large as his father’s son. He has been able to raise more money than anyone could have imagined. He has, for more than two years, had the uncontested support of the Republican Party establishment — including governors, congressmen, contributors, former officials and party leaders. It is a real tribute to his ability to be able to amass such support.
2. The blurring of the usual ideological divisions in the Republican Party. Republicans are hungry for victory. They seem to be overlooking their own ideological priorities to find a winning formula. Even the evangelists of the religious right seem more temperate this time around. That is very important in developing a winning strategy for the fall election.
3. The inability of other candidates to make progress in the race. Candidates like Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer — and for a while Elizabeth Dole — have been doing everything that they could to attract support and nothing good has happened to them. Dole said frankly that it was Bush’s fundraising ability of Bush that prevented her from continuing. I believe it is his total campaign. Bush simply has taken all of the oxygen out of the air in the Republican nominating process. No one else can breathe in this atmosphere.
Democrats and Reformers
The Democrats have a horse race on their hands. Vice President Al Gore must still be considered the favorite. He has the support of the political establishment of the party, including President Bill Clinton. He has the ability to command the media attention he needs to present a message. He has the manpower supplied by his support by the labor movement. His is a formidable candidacy, make no mistake about it.
But Gore has serious competition. Bill Bradley, the former basketball star and U.S. senator, is making a strong challenge. Bradley is running a very smart campaign — something that no one has accused the vice president of doing. Bradley has the money, enough to be able to outspend Gore over these next critical months. He has captured the imagination of voters where he has campaigned and has the potential to upset Gore in the early primaries.
I’m for Bradley because I believe that he will make the better candidate against Bush in the fall. In every poll where Bradley and Gore are paired with Bush, Bradley does better than Gore. It is universal, whether the poll targets national voters or selected states: Bradley always out-polls Gore. The timing of the Democratic contest is similar to that of the Republicans. It will likely be over by March 21.
And then there is the Reform Party. The creation of Ross Perot in 1992 has something that all candidates want — ballot access and money. Because of its history in the past two elections, the Reform Party is automatically on the ballot in 21 states and will receive more than $12 million for the fall election from the Presidential Fund of the Federal Election Commission. That has attracted a number of interesting candidates, including:
* Ross Perot himself, although he has been saying “no” loudly, in quiet ways.
* Patrick Buchanan, the perennial Republican candidate has turned Reform. He was getting nowhere in the Republican race, so he switched parties, thinking he would be welcomed with the nomination and the money. But his reception was not as universally pleasant as he would have wanted. He has to scramble to get the nomination.
* Donald Trump, the New York real-estate mogul who defines the word ego. Prompted by a mischievous political consultant named Roger Stone, Trump has become a Reform Party member and is intent on making the race.
* Jesse Ventura, the former wrestling star, now the governor of Minnesota. Ventura is the only real Reform elected official of any note and is a star in the party. He says he is not interested in the presidential race, but it is not over yet.
Picking a winner among these and other Reform Party candidates is not easy. The process of selection has not yet been defined. The party is in the process of a difficult reorganizing effort, and no one really knows who is in charge. The nominee of the Reform Party will not be elected president anyway, but he could influence who the winner will be. Perot’s candidacy in 1992 definitely helped Clinton become president by siphoning off votes that would otherwise have gone to George Bush. The same thing could happen this time.
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