Bush wars: The movie

Democrats slam Bush in a new video, while Gore raids Dallas to boost his base. Papers make their picks, voters doubt theirs and Nader rises from the left.


Alicia Montgomery
October 23, 2000 10:13PM (UTC)

Al Gore and the Democrats have been serving up a plate of George W. Bush's shortcomings as governor, hoping to take a bite out of his campaign. Now they've gone Hollywood. The Associated Press reports that the Democratic National Committee will debut a 10-minute minimovie starring half a dozen dissatisfied Texans, each talking about Bush's failures. According to DNC spokeswoman Jenny Backus, the message of Bush's neglect will sound more authentic coming from his constituents. "This is Texans in their own words," she said. "It's a way to show what kind of leader this guy is."

These Texans think Bush is the type of leader that the nation can do without, and they cite many of the same issues that Gore hammered at during the debates. "We've got 1.4 million kids without health insurance in Texas. That's not a few children. That's a massive problem," said pediatrician Krenie Stowe in the portion of the video devoted to healthcare. "Governor Bush ... doesn't care about healthcare. I don't think it's a priority of his. I think tax cuts are a priority of his." Elida Herrera, a resident of the "colonias" -- impoverished communities along the Mexican border that star in the video's opening scenes -- agrees with Gore that Bush doesn't care about poverty. "I think he prefers organized people with money," she said. The Democrats will release the video at 90 news conferences in 23 states starting Monday.

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Raiding the Lonestar State
Gore has aimed to hit Bush where he lives by attacking his record as Texas governor. Over the weekend, the vice president sought to do some of that damage in person. On a stop at a black megachurch in Dallas, Gore, without mentioning Bush by name, blasted the governor for not doing enough on race relations in Texas. "There is no place in the United States of America for discrimination or hate crimes," Gore told thousands of worshipers at the Potter's House. It was Gore's first stop in Texas since the summer, and community leaders praised him for the visit. "Most people would say the vice president is wasting his time coming to the state of Texas, George Bush's home," said Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. "They may be right, but he made a commitment."

Byrd against Bush
To turn out more of the black vote for Gore, Democrats are taking a little bit of Texas to the rest of the nation. The Detroit Free Press reports that the Democratic Party has enlisted the help of Louvon Harris, sister of dragging victim James Byrd, to encourage black voters in Michigan to go to the polls. Bush "treated my brother's daughter cold and heartlessly when she asked him to pass laws against hate crimes," Harris said, urging local NAACP members to turn out against Bush. The speech was part of the NAACP's larger voter outreach effort, which its leaders call the most aggressive in the organization's 91-year history. Said the group's president, Kweisi Mfume, "We believe this is the most important election in 30 years."

Black and white and read all over
The election doesn't have to be important for the media to have an opinion, and that opinion this year holds no surprises. Reuters reports that the recent flurry of press endorsements fell along predictable lines. The left-leaning Washington Post backed Gore, calling him "a man of good character," and asserting that "in a dangerous world, as we have recently been reminded this is, Mr. Gore offers leadership without the need of on-the-job training." The San Francisco Chronicle also chose the Democrat, saying Gore possesses the "seasoned judgment, leadership and familiarity with the world" required for the White House.

Things did not go so well for Gore in the heartland press. The Columbus Dispatch and the Cleveland Plain Dealer in Ohio, and the Detroit News in Michigan, all put their weight behind Bush, agreeing that he is the best man to overcome Washington partisanship. The Detroit News also said that Gore's environmentalism and "disdain for the internal combustion engine" would be bad for the region.

Deciding, but doubting still
The press may have come to terms with its doubts about Bush and Gore, but many Americans say that neither of the major party candidates has really won them over. The New York Times reports that the debates only reinforced what voters already felt about the candidates, without clearing up many of their lingering doubts. General voter sentiment about the debates was summed up Massachusetts teacher John Ryan: "Gore looks like somebody molded out of clay. He's not warm or genuine," he said. "Bush might be a friendlier guy and easier to be with, but he either runs out of thoughts or runs out of ways to express them when he's asked a question." Ryan plans to vote for Gore, but he isn't thrilled with his options. "The parties have stuck these two candidates in our faces and you have to take the lesser of two evils," he complained.

Jolly Green Giant killer
For those who find the choice between Bush and Gore unsatisfactory, Ralph Nader is proving to be a powerful draw, according to the Washington Post. Democrats who've done the math on the polls are growing more concerned that the consumer advocate is draining Gore's strength among liberals and environmentalists in crucial states such as Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Maine. "He could swing the vote to Bush," frets Gore campaign chairman William Daley.

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Nader himself has been ambivalent about his effect on the final tally. In his recent "Don't Waste Your Vote" tour, Nader tried to reverse the Democratic charges against him, but he seemed to acknowledge that a close race makes a Nader vote more perilous. On Election Day, "if Gore is nine points ahead of Bush," Nader advised, liberals "can vote for the Greens and have it both ways. They can help build a watchdog party after Nov. 7 by depleting the vote totals from both parties." But since most polls have Gore and Bush deadlocked, or show the Republican in the lead, some Democrats are losing patience with Nader's quixotic run. His candidacy is "irresponsible and reckless to the progressive movement," said Neel Pender, executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party. "All the things he has worked on for 30 years he is willing to jeopardize for his own ego."

On the trail
Bush: Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Buchanan: Alaska.
Gore: Washington state.
Nader: California.

Presidential poll positions
Major-party candidates:

  • Bush 50 to Gore 41 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 19-21).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 41 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 19-21).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 45 (Washington Post/ABC News Oct. 19-21).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 41 (Newsweek Oct. 18-20).
  • Gore 44 to Bush 43 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 4-8).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 19-21).
  • Nader 5 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 19-21).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post/ABC News Oct. 19-21).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).
  • Nader 5 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 4-8).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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