WASHINGTON -- The weeks after Election Day and before the beginning of Christmas shopping are when pundits and pollsters traditionally travel the country explaining what happened. But, of course, that was impossible this time because no one had the time to check results and polls outside Florida.
So it was only last week that national-vote babble was heard here in the political capital. The first explanation and revision of the results was a panel discussion on Wednesday sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council. That is the moderate or "New" Democratic gathering once led by Bill Clinton, then by Al Gore, then by Joseph Lieberman, the current chairman.
The results were predictable. New Democrats led by Al From, the DLC's founder, said that Gore ran too far to the left, thus allowing George W. Bush to win the center and the election. Steve Rosenthal, political director of the AFL-CIO, rebutted that, saying, first, Gore won the overall election by 539,000 votes and, second, he did best when he came across as a populist ready to fight for the well-known and great American, "the little guy."
A stand-off there. Because of a dearth of panels, the best analysis I have seen, or read, of what happened was an impressive special issue of the magazine "Campaigns and Elections," published by Congressional Quarterly. If you care about such things as the won-lost records of the political consultants running politics -- into the ground, muck and mire -- this is an evening's entertainment.
These are some of the points made by editor Ron Faucheux, his staff and guest (and generally lesser-known) consultants and pollsters: Election laws matter. It used to be the dirty little secret of elections -- keeping people off the ballot, disqualifying voters -- but now we all know how it works. It was not only Florida. What would have happened if Missouri had not allowed voters to cast their ballots for a dead man? Issues matter. The Republicans prevailed -- as did Clinton for eight years -- by stealing the other side's best issues, particularly prescription drugs for senior citizens. Faucheux makes the argument that if the Republicans had not woken up to the power of that one in the final weeks, Democrats would now control Congress. Abortion matters. Republican money and activists were not there for pro-choice candidates in their own party. There are too many one-issue types in the party -- and everyone else, including the new president, is terrified of them. Early money matters. It was there for Bush, and the rest is history. All money matters. If the Republicans had been willing to put another million dollars into New Jersey, their Senate candidate, Robert Franks, would have beaten the $65-million ATM man, Sen. John Corzine, who outspent Franks 12-to-1 and still only managed to get 51 percent of the vote. Incumbency matters. Of the 434 members of the House who ran for re-election, 419 won. Organized labor and the National Rifle Association matter. Both got what they paid for. The main story matters. Bush was clobbered in the first television debate, but the story the next day and week was Gore's bullying and sighs. Clinton mattered. Academic projections based on history and the state of the economy indicated that Gore would be an easy winner, but 68 percent of the people who voted told exit pollsters they thought Clinton would be remembered most not for his economy but for his scandals. Only 29 percent said he would be remembered for his leadership. Turnout matters. Union households counted for 26 percent of the vote in 2000, compared with 23 percent in 1996. That decided more than a few close elections in favor of the Democrats. Showing up matters; modesty doesn't. David Palmer, a Green Party candidate for the state House of Representatives in Maine, had no primary opponent, but he also got no votes (not even his own). He was ruled a loser because state law requires a plurality to win.