Can 'anointed' nominees be toppled?
Presidential nominations aren't over yet, analysts say, citing
So far, the race for each party's presidential nomination feels more like a coronation than an election. Though not a single primary vote has been cast, there's a certain air of inevitability to these contests - an understanding that front-runners with this much party support seldom fail to get the nod.Skip to next paragraph
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But with dark horse Bill Bradley now in a statistical tie with Al Gore in New Hampshire polls, and for the first time moving up on him in national surveys, it's now conceivable the vice president could be toppled from his throne of presumed nominee.
Even George W. Bush, miles in front of competitors such as Sen. John McCain and Elizabeth Dole, could lose his crown, whisper some political experts.
Conventional wisdom still favors a Bush-Gore race in 2000. While Americans may wish they had more influence over the nomination process, there's little sign that they believe these early coronations will run roughshod over the whole idea of democracy.
Political analysts and the secondary tier of candidates, meanwhile, are trying to assess how securely the crowns are balanced on the heads of the anointed. Many see Mr. Gore's, in particular, as teetering.
"Bradley's showing is better than I expected not only six months ago, but six weeks ago," says independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "Bush's inevitability still has not been shattered in my mind, but Gore's is starting to crumble."
Outlook for Democrats
For the Democrats, a serious Gore-Bradley fight would not bode well for winning the White House. Gore, having originally expected to wage only one campaign battle, will have to deploy his resources on two fronts. Nor would history be on Democrats' side.
"In the last 100 years, 100 percent of the time, when the Democrats have held power and had a big party fight, they've lost power," says Allan Lichtman, known for his "13 keys" to the White House, which forecast presidential elections.
While national surveys still show Gore with a commanding lead over his Democratic rival, they also show the gap narrowing. Last week, the Pew Research Center found that in July, 65 percent of all Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents favored the vice president. This month, that dropped to 58 percent. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll mirrors that trend.
Interestingly, The Wall Street Journal data show Mr. Bradley, rather than Gore, to be the more formidable challenger to Governor Bush - though that poll still shows Bush winning in the general election.
Call him a contrarian, says Mike Murphy, a GOP political consultant, but he sees Bradley overtaking Gore as a real possibility. He also says it's conceivable that Senator McCain can beat Bush - though that's a big stretch, he concedes.
Mr. Murphy, who is not yet committed to any candidate but is being wooed by the McCain camp, says both dark horses are seen as "people of principle who could clean up a broken Washington." Moreover, he adds, voters like the fact that Bradley and McCain have had lives of achievement outside of Washington - Bradley in his pro-basketball career, and McCain as a Vietnam war hero.
"I don't believe either Gore or Bush are inevitable," says Steve Merksamer, a California lawyer and political strategist who advised Republican Bob Dole in his 1996 general-election fight against Bill Clinton. Republicans Steve Forbes and McCain each has the financial resources and ideas to unseat Bush, says Mr. Merksamer, national co-chairman for the Forbes campaign.