It was another one of the those insignificant presidential primaries for Tennessee. But last week’s humdrum election day didn’t keep the partisan spinsters from jamming up the fax machines with senseless, self-promotional drivel about what it supposedly meant.
As it turned out, the Republicans took the prize for spouting the most babble about what they thought the results predicted for the political futures of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
”Vice President Al Gore’s failure to win a majority of votes in yesterday’s Tennessee primary shows the people who know Al Gore best reject his long record of manipulating the truth for his own partisan advantage,“ read a missive titled ”Al Gore: Unfavorite Son“ from Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson.
Nicholson referred to Gore’s failure to win a majority of all the votes cast in both primaries combined. But who cares about that? While it is difficult to get past Gore’s shameless predilection for lying and his sudden, opportunistic, and audacious conversion into a born-again campaign finance reformer, he did win more votes in Tennessee than any candidate in either primary. And the Clinton-Gore ticket did take Tennessee in both ’92 and ’96. But those facts, of course, were not included in the RNC press release.
”If people really consider Al Gore to be a Tennessean, he should have been able to draw more people to the polls just by being on the ballot,“ Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chip Saltsman said in a press release the day after the primary. ”The Gore campaign has been calling people for weeks urging them to vote while the Bush campaign did virtually nothing, and still we had more voters in our primary. Clearly, Tennesseans are not excited about Al Gore.“
More objective analysis wouldn’t find meaning in the fact that more Republicans voted in the GOP primary than Democrats in their party primary. That’s been a trend in Tennessee.
”Despite claiming Tennessee as his home state and actively working to increase turnout, Al Gore (196,792) received a scant 8,001 more votes than Republican front-runner George W. Bush (188,791),“ the Saltsman release continued.
The GOP spin ignored the fact that statewide voter turnout barely reached a double-digit percentage because the primaries had been predetermined the week before on March 7’s Super Tuesday. That gave rise to an election here from which almost no conclusions can be drawn.
”I think it’s a piss-poor attempt at spin control,“ says Mike Kopp, a former Gore aide, of the Republican analysis. Kopp says neither Gore nor Bush can claim much of anything from the Tennessee primary results.
”I think the real story was that most people didn’t care,“ he says. ”Voters knew it didn’t mean anything. They knew when it got to this point it didn’t matter.“
Democratic political consultant Bob Corney agrees. ”I don’t know that you can draw any conclusions in general about it,“ he says.
While much less obnoxious in their analysis than the GOP mouthpieces, some Democrats had their own lapses of lucidity after the results were in. Asked what Tennessee’s March 14 primary vote meant, state Democratic Party executive director Greg Wanderman seems rational enough at first. ”It’s obvious people really felt like after March 7, their vote didn’t mean a lot.“
But then Wanderman veers off the road when he says that it is significant that Bush ”failed to decidedly“ beat John McCain, who had suspended his campaign the week earlier.
Bush took 77 percent of the vote in his primary, while McCain got 15 percent, with the balance going toward the lesser GOP candidates. It was, in fact, a victory less convincing than Gore’s, whose opponent, Bill Bradley, received only a few percentage points of the Democratic vote. But it was still a landslide, not a failure of the Republican Party to ”find a consensus candidate,“ as Wanderman theorizes.
The results may say more about McCain and Bradley than they do about the front-runners. Bush had a real primary opponent in McCain, who won several states before getting trounced on Super Tuesday. Gore had a much easier road. Bradley simply wasn’t a strong opponent and didn’t win a single primary. He had already backed out of the presidential election before Tennesseans ever got their chance to dismiss him.
After all the hot air clears, the party spinners can agree on one thing: Neither candidate can take Tennessee for granted, which is all they should have said in the first place.
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