On Politics On PoliticsOn Politics
Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Warning Signs

Ralph Nader's decision to run for president as an independent caused Democrats to have heart palpitations and made Republicans euphoric. But just the opposite was the case five days earlier, when, for the first time since 1991, Democrats captured a Republican seat in a House special election.

With the closeness of the 2000 presidential election still fresh in most voters' minds, Nader is unlikely to attract as much support as he did last time. Yet he still might collect enough votes to tip the balance in President Bush's favor.

In 2000, the country was polarized along the lines of pro-Clinton/Gore and anti-Clinton/Gore. This time, the camps are pro-Bush/Cheney and anti-Bush/Cheney. In 2000, George W. Bush was well positioned as a "compassionate conservative," and all but the most liberal and partisan Democrats generally saw him as unthreatening. Today, Bush is widely reviled among Democrats.

My hunch is that the most regret-plagued people in America are the 97,488 Floridians who voted for Nader in 2000. I doubt that many had the slightest interest in helping Bush win the White House, and I suspect that most of them are militantly anti-Bush today. While some of Nader's Florida voters might not have cast ballots or might have found other fringe candidates to support if Nader had not been on the ballot, at least 35 percent would have voted for Gore, I'd wager. (To be fair, had Gore won Florida by 537 votes instead of lost it by that many, every one of the 17,484 Floridians who voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Bush would have had to be on a suicide watch for having caused a Gore presidency.)

Virtually all strategists in both parties predict that this presidential election is going to be very close, because the country remains evenly and deeply divided along ideological and partisan lines as well as over Bush's performance as president. My hunch is that very few ideologues are likely to throw their vote away by casting it for someone other than a major party's nominee.

But even if Nader receives only one-half or one-third of the 2.8 million votes (2.7 percent) that he won last time, he still could hand Bush the election. Judging by the 2000 results, Nader did cost the Democrats both Florida and New Hampshire. (The Democrats lost Missouri and Ohio by a little more than the Nader vote.) And Nader almost cost the Democrats Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, all of which they won.

Meanwhile, both parties are spinning the significance of the Democrats' special-election victory in Kentucky. Former state Attorney General Ben Chandler beat Republican state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, 55 percent to 43 percent, in a district that Bush carried with 55 percent of the vote. Republicans suggest that Chandler was a far superior candidate to Kerr and had a huge head start from his recent unsuccessful run for governor. All that's true. But it's also true that if Bush were at the top of his game, the stronger candidate might have lost. Bush is still quite popular in Kentucky, but he's not strong enough to pull a weak candidate to victory. GOP strategists shrewdly decided to keep Bush out of the district to try to keep the outcome from being interpreted as a rejection of his leadership.

On June 1, very Republican South Dakota will hold a special election to fill the at-large House seat vacated by Republican Rep. Bill Janklow. As in Kentucky, Democrats are backing a candidate who recently ran a very respectable race. Stephanie Herseth lost to Janklow in 2002, 46 percent to 53 percent. And, like Chandler, she has a head start in both name recognition and campaign organization.

But the Republican nominee in South Dakota is considerably more established than Kerr was in Kentucky. Larry Diedrich is a seven-year veteran of the Legislature and a a former president of the American Soybean Association. Still, like Kerr, he lacks high name recognition. Diedrich has the benefit of a longer campaign than Kerr had, but he's still in a race against the clock. The most recent poll showed Herseth with a huge lead, 58 percent to 29 percent. The poll also showed Bush, who carried South Dakota with 60 percent in 2000, ahead of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts by just 50 percent to 39 percent.

Just as Nader's candidacy sets off alarms among Democrats, House Republicans -- still heavily favored to hold their chamber -- ought to see these two special elections as a warning that they cannot count on Bush's having long coattails even if he is strong enough to win a second term.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.