Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Convenient Truth: 2000

This is the first of a short series I will be doing, surrounding a point of departure in the form of a Gore selecting Governor Shaheen as his running mate and therefore a Gore victory in 2000.

The election between Democratic nominee Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George Bush ended up being an extremely close nail biter. Incumbent President Clinton was fairly popular because of how well he handled the economy, giving the federal government a rare surplus of funds and putting them on a supposed path to get rid of the federal debt over the course of the first decade of the new millennium, even though he had to deal with a media frenzied over the Lewinsky scandal that brought Clinton to have the unfortunate honor of being the second president to be impeached. This was a net boost for the Democrats, as Gore was a fairly influential part of the Clinton administration. He was influential and popular enough with party members that he easily defeated a challenge from the left in the form of former Senator Bill Bradley. Gore chose New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen as his running mate. Many political scientists consider this to be a positive decision since it excited the liberal base of the party by choosing the second woman on the VP spot for a major party and it was a regional balance between the South and Northeast.

The Republican contest was not so easy. Two of the biggest frontrunners for the entire primary season were eventual nominee Governor George Bush and Senator John McCain of Georgia. Bush was well respected and had a network of donors because of respect for the Bush family. However, McCain was able to make many well placed and timed jabs into the Bush campaign. Bush won out in Iowa, but McCain won in New Hampshire and Delaware before Bush came back in South Carolina. McCain, who tried to position himself as the insurgent candidate that would revitalize the party, accused the Bush campaign of using too many underhanded moves campaigning against him. By Super Tuesday, they looked fairly evenly matched, but as the primary season began to conclude it was clear that McCain would stay an insurgent and not be able to clinch the nomination. He dropped out of the race on April 15, 2000. He chose Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney of Texas (Wyoming for the purposes of election intricacies) as his running mate.

The general election was further complicated by a popular Green Party presence in the form of Ralph Nader. He was polling around 2% or 3%, which was very high for a general third party candidate. Bush used some of his charm and "compassionate conservatism" in order to sway voters much like President Clinton did, but Gore's prowess in debating was clear over that of Bush. President Clinton was a critical piece in the puzzle for the Gore/Shaheen campaign, as he pushed that Gore would continue to put America on the path to eliminate the debt and that Bush would only put America back into a deficit spending pattern and greater debt with his tax cut plan. Polls consistently showed that the race would be close, and many Democrats were hoping that the increasingly popular Nader would not be a spoiler. Ohio was the first major swing state to fall, which was called at 9:30 PM for Bush and a concern for Gore as no Republican had won the White House without Ohio. However, Gore did not have to worry for long, as New Hampshire was called for him at 10:07 PM, making him President-Elect. Florida was still too close to call, and it would remain so until late the next morning, when after multiple recounts it was tentatively called for Gore, putting him just below the 300 EV mark.

President Gore's biggest early goals in his administration was to make sure that the budget surplus continued into the 2001 budget, a number of measures promoting alternative energy sources and research, and education reform. A few measures promoting investment in solar energy, nuclear energy, as well as a compromise measure in domestic offshore oil production were major legislative accomplishments early on, and President Gore was working with influential congressmen, like Senator Ted Kennedy, to make progress on education reform. Even though President Gore set the focus on domestic policy, the events that were about to occur would force him to take major action on another front.

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