Al Gore’s Dilemma, by Eddie Huff

A New Visions Commentary paper published April 2000 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.

With the "Super Tuesday" primaries clearing the road ahead to the real super Tuesday in November, the battle lines between Al Gore and George W. Bush are feverishly being drawn. Strategists are huddling to work out how each man can win the minds and souls of the voting public.

At this early juncture, handicappers would have to give the edge to Vice President Gore. Gore has a number of things going for him. The biggest are a strong and robust economy and a dominant media which, from past experience, will probably be favorable to him and more hostile to Texas Governor Bush.

There is another thing Gore has in his favor. He appears to have the African-American vote locked up. This was a great advantage for Bill Clinton in 1996, and it looks like a good thing for Gore. In the primaries, despite challenger Bill Bradley making civil rights a key issue, Gore decisively captured black support. But black support could also be disadvantage for Gore.

The greatest danger Gore faces in pandering to "The Black Vote" is alienating white voters, especially in the South. The Democrats have to be careful not to believe the Clinton/Gore team won the past two elections because of some love that whites, especially southern whites, had for them. Or that the black vote truly made the difference.

For Republicans, one of the best-kept secrets of 1992 and 1996 is that the absence of the conservative voters hurt the Republicans more than black voters helped Clinton/Gore. The media won’t say it, but it’s true. Conservative Republicans and allied voting blocs abandoned the elder Bush in 1992 as punishment for breaking his "no new taxes" pledge, and Ross Perot took away more than enough votes away to seal Bush’s defeat. In 1996, staunch conservatives did not vote for Bob Dole to send a message to the Republican Party not to nominate a candidate weak in the areas like social issues about which they felt strongly.

This year, Republican John McCain’s staggering primary losses in states like South Carolina and Virginia after attacking the "religious right" show the power of that voting bloc has not diminished. Instead, it lay dormant through the past two elections. Furthermore, the absence of Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan’s departure form the GOP does not give Democrats an easy target in painting Bush or his party as a "right-wing extremists."

If Al Gore panders to African-Americans, he stands to lose the old-line Reagan Democrats and other allies. Gore must shore up that white vote. Having eliminated Bradley and locked up black support, I’d expect Gore to now run hard to the right by Democratic standards. Such a move may anger some black voters, but, as long as he keeps the black leadership in his pocket, Gore should be safe. He can always come back to them in the final stretch of the campaign if it is close.

Another factor that should worry Gore is that Bush is reaching out to black voters. As mentioned earlier by Project 21 columnist Robert George, the Bush campaign made appearances during the primaries in black communities to discuss real issues. Usually, Republicans don’t show up until later for token appearances. Add to this the certainty that Bush will add blacks to prominant position in his administration. George notes this won’t immediately reverse the overwhelming black preference for the Democratic Party, but it could keep Gore from taking us for granted.

Despite Gore’s advantages, the real key will be how Bush plays to Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats. If Bush is able to win back those voters his father and Dole chased away and add a large Hispanic vote, Gore will face a real problem. Gore may intentionally try to distance himself from African-Americans.

If Gore feels he needs to "moderate" himself by appearing not to pander to blacks, he may seek some issue or person of the black community to criticize like Clinton did with rapper Sister Souljah. But he may have problems – he is no Clinton. His repudiation may not appear convincing and it could come back to haunt him.

This November’s presidential contest should be the most interesting this nation has seen in a long time and fun to watch. Again, we in the Black community are set to play a huge part in it, directly or indirectly.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.