"Speakering" of Dick Gephardt<br>
Two polls brought good news to Vice President Al Gore the week of July 17. A CNN/USA Today poll by the Gallup Organization shows that, nationally, Gore has gained considerable ground on Texas Governor George W. Bush. Among likely voters, Gore cut Bush’s national lead to 2 points. The same poll also shows Gore ahead among women for the first time in a while as well as among independents.
A CBS News poll of registered voters, a significantly less accurate measure, also shows Gore behind by only two points. These two national polls don’t offset the polls in state after state showing Bush with a wide lead, but it is welcome news for the Vice President nonetheless. It provides a much-needed break from a string of bad weeks and bad news piled atop more bad news.
For Gore, the latest unhelpfulness is the almost stinging refusal by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to consider the number two spot on the Democrat’s national ticket.
A Gephardt aide, responding to suggestions that the Missourian had moved to number one on the list of potential running mates, was cited over the weekend saying the Minority Leader "… has privately sent them [the Gore campaign] signals that he would prefer not to be considered.
This was followed by a flurry of press accounts on Monday, which cited unnamed Gephardt associates indicating there was no interest in being a ticket mate. On Tuesday, Gephardt announced at a news conference that "I don't want" to be Al Gore's running mate. And while he refused to say that outright that he would refuse the number two spot if offered to him, he said, "I've said I don't want to do that and I hope and believe they'll find someone to do that other than me."
It is no secret that Dick Gephardt and Al Gore do not exactly like each other. Nevertheless, he would be an ideal running mate for Al Gore in many ways.
He has already run for President himself, so he would not be shaken by the vigor and scrutiny of a national campaign. As Minority Leader during the Gingrich and Hastert years in the House, he has tried to be an effective national spokesman for the Democrats, making him well known to the American people.
He has the strong support of organized labor, which views him as perhaps their best friend in Congress. Many union workers are uneasy about the Vice President. Gore’s radical environmental positions would, for example, eliminate many US manufacturing jobs in made law. Gephardt helps reassure this critical political constituency that their interests would be protected in a Gore Administration.
He has the support of the Congressional party, which is crucial to Gore’s efforts to win the White House in November. In fact, Gephardt is such a strong choice that had he an interest, he should be able to name his own price for accepting the number two slot. This could include everything from control of trade policy to veto authority over significant administration appointments, as well as the usual jobs.
So why all the resistance? Is it just that they don’t like each other and can’t put it aside?
Gephardt says he is concerned that, by running for Vice President, he would jeopardize Democrat chances to pick-up the eight seats they need to organize the House in January 2001. He recognizes that, should he join the presidential ticket, he would need to give up his House seat and the chance to be Speaker.
What this tells us, I suspect, is that after weighing the options, Gephardt believes he has a better chance of being elected Speaker than of being elected Vice President running on a ticket with Al Gore. Not exactly a strong expression of support of loyalty.
This also tells us that Democrats have already begun to plan how to win without Gore. They will make an honest effort, as many of them genuinely seem to want to win with him, but the first instinct of a politician is self-preservation. They will cut and run on Gore if they have to. They want to win control of the House. They see it within their grasp. And they may just be so anxious for it, so eager to reach for the brass ring, that they might bail out on the Vice President early in the fall election. So in addition to watching every move George W. Bush makes, he has to constantly watch his back.
Which just adds to Al Gore’s problems. And takes the "oomph" out of otherwise good news.
Peter Roff is a well-known political writer and strategist. Based in Washington, DC, he appears frequently on MSNBC and the Fox News Channel providing political analysis and opinion.