School's out for Bush "miracle"

The Texas governor gets cocky on the road. Gore goes after Greens in the Northwest while Nader gets a little help from his friends.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published October 24, 2000 6:53PM (EDT)

George W. Bush has run far on his record of improving Texas schools. But a new report from the RAND Corp., a nonprofit think tank, says that his education record is broken. Reuters reports that the study challenges the idea of a Texas education "miracle." Said Stephen Klein, a senior RAND researcher involved in the study, "I think 'the Texas miracle' is a myth." Titled "What Do Test Scores in Texas Tell Us?" the report asserts that the gains the state's students made on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills exams didn't result in improvements on national standardized tests. The study suggests that the rise in scores on the local exam resulted from extensive classroom coaching. "There is nothing remarkable in Texas education," Klein told Reuters. "With few exceptions, notably fourth grade math, gains in Texas in recent years were about the same as in the United States."

Al Gore's campaign has already pounced on the RAND findings as proof that Bush's education achievements have been grossly overrated. "The very foundation of the Bush campaign just crumbled," said Mark Fabiani, Gore's deputy campaign manager. "This RAND report reveals 'serious questions' about Mr. Bush's repeated claims that his education reforms have worked." But Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett smelled a rat in the report's "coming out just two weeks before the election." Bartlett also said that the RAND study was limited in its ability to reveal much about the state of the education system. Klein disputes the charge about the timing of the report's release. "We started this project in April and it has nothing to do with the election," Klein said.

Bush gets cocky
The Texas governor showed no signs of worry during his barnstorming tour of heartland states on Monday, according to the Washington Times. Bush was so confident, he started speaking as if an election win were already his. "I will be an activist president with conservative principles," Bush said at a rally in Missouri. "And I will focus the nation, the Congress and the presidency on big goals." He outlined his proposals for increasing the strength of the military and shoring up Social Security and Medicare, and stressed once more that he's the man to end the partisan battles in the nation's capital. "When I go to Washington, I won't be looking for arguments, I'll be looking for answers," he said. "I won't be trying to score points, I'll be making progress." Bush's trips the rest of this week may remind him, however, that packing his bags for Washington is premature. He's visiting Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, swing states where Gore enjoys slim leads. The Texas governor is also journeying to Florida, where a strong Republican base and his brother's rule of the Statehouse still haven't helped him overcome Gore's challenge there.

Fair-weather friends
The vice president has made trouble for Bush in Florida, but he's not taking anything for granted in swing states, the New York Times reports. Gore is giving special attention to states in the Pacific Northwest where Green Party candidate Ralph Nader threatens to tilt the race in Bush's favor. To reassure voters there, the vice president is dusting off his environmental credentials. "I will fight to protect the environment with all my heart and soul," he told supporters in Portland, Ore., vowing to "protect ancient forests" and "block new roads and timber sales in our roadless forests and ancient forest areas."

Though some Democratic leaders are discouraged that Gore still has to play to the base this late in the game, the vice president cautions those who would count him out. "Fifteen days is a long time if your objective is to hold the ball and run out the clock," Gore said. "Fifteen days is a long time if you are trying to hide behind tracking polls and not engage in the issues because the people disagree with you on the issues. That's the dilemma that my opponent faces in the next 15 days."

Little things mean a lot
While Bush storms his barns and Gore hopscotches around his base states, each candidate is wary of making even the slightest slip-up. The Los Angeles Times reports that the unprecedented closeness of the race has added surprising suspense to the final two weeks of the campaign. "Normally, the last couple of weeks is essentially a victory lap for one candidate and an exercise in self-delusion for the other," says Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. "For the first time in a long time, these last two weeks really count." Trying to make that time count in his favor, Bush continues to challenge Gore in several states that went for President Clinton in the last race, and has added Minnesota and Michigan to the menu. As for Gore, he's making Bush pay for a win in Florida and, according to the latest polls, Gore may even take the Sunshine State.

Although this horse race could be the product of voter disinterest, it could also be a result of the ineptitude of both campaigns, each of which has failed to secure a substantial advantage over its opponent. Indeed, they have to be prepared to battle until the last hour. As Tom Cole, chief of staff for the Republican National Committee said, "neither one of these guys can put the other guy away."

Green Party in black and white
Nader is proving a substantial obstacle in Gore's quest to put away the race in states like Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin. For most of the election season, Nader couldn't buy a page's worth of ink in major newspapers. But now he has a friend to do it for him, the Associated Press reports. Documentary film producer Greg MacArthur announced that he'll spend $320,000 through the group Citizens for Strategic Voting to encourage Democrats and independent voters to cast a ballot for Nader. The full-page print ads read: "Why Voting for a Candidate Who Can't Win Is the Smartest Thing You'll Ever Do," and "And Don't Worry, a Vote for Nader Is Not a Vote for Bush." But MacArthur doesn't want Nader's progress to result in a Republican victory, so he's not running the ads in highly contested states where it would be "unsafe to vote" against Gore -- that is, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and Washington.

Young voters turn off and drop out
Although one might expect Nader's run to energize some young people to go to the polls, that's a tall order this election year, the Associated Press reports. Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, predicts that turnout among young voters will be lower than the 28 percent mark set in the 1996 election. "There is no sign of young people's interest," Gans said. David Rohde, political scientist at Michigan State University, believes that third-party efforts are unlikely to invigorate the youth vote. "The candidates are paying attention [to young voters] at least to the degree that they'd like to turn out the folks who are inclined to support them," he said. "The reality is, young people don't turn out." But this year has been particularly uninspiring, not only because of the dearth of outreach but because the candidates themselves haven't excited much youth interest or enthusiasm. "Agonized" undecided voter Alex Gianturco, 22, feels he's doomed to choose between "stupidity and soulless evil." "On the one hand Bush is genuine. You can tell he's a real person, a real stupid person," Gianturco said. "But voting for Gore seems tainted. He says whatever he thinks will come off best."

On the trail
Bush: Illinois, Tennessee and Florida.
Buchanan: TK.
Gore: Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Nader: Washington state.

Presidential poll positions
Major-party candidates:

  • Bush 46 to Gore 44 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 20-22).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 47 (ABC News Oct. 20-22).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 46 (Washington Post Oct. 20-22).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 20-22).
  • 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 (ABC News Oct. 20-22).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post Oct. 20-22).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 20-22).
  • Nader 5 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 20-22).
  • 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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