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Press Bill Press is co-host of CNN's Crossfire. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN during the election season.

Bill Press: Bush and Gore enter final stretch

Dear Reader: I realize that on November 8 this column will either make me look positively brilliant or positively stupid. But, as an intrepid talking head, and with absolutely no money -- only my already-battered reputation -- on the line, thatís a risk Iím willing to take. So, here goes ...

How George Bush lost the election

Looking back, itís easy to see where George W. blew what once looked like a slam dunk.

After all, just a year ago, Dubya had everything going for him: a famous name; a fawning press corps; a party desperate to win back the White House; an American public looking for new leadership; and a motley collection of primary opponents who, except for Arizona Sen. John McCain, couldnít campaign their way out of a wet paper bag.

And poor Al Gore had everything going against him: a campaign staff in disarray; an Alpha Male clothing crisis; a tainted president who wouldnít shut up; a primary opponent who outclassed him; and a speaking style that caused grass to wither and die.

The outcome was never in doubt. President Bush would get his revenge. The son would inherit the throne.

What happened? How did the wheels come off? Therein lies the tale of four big mistakes.

Bush's first mistake was making a giant tax cut the centerpiece of his campaign. This guy painted himself as a new kind of Republican, yet the best he could do was beat the same old Reagan drum. It was an old plan that just didn't fit today's new economy.

As John McCain proved in the primaries, most Americans believe there are more noble purposes for spending the surplus than putting even more money in the pockets of the wealthiest people in the country. Bush spent the entire campaign trying to sell his tax cut, and never did.

His second, colossal mistake was letting Daddy name his vice presidential running mate.

Dick Cheney brought nothing but problems to the table. He looked old enough to be Bush's uncle. He appealed solely to conservatives, whom Bush already had locked up. He had a most uncompassionate voting record in Congress and zero campaign skills. He got all tangled up in his personal finances and he got crushed in the debates by Joe Lieberman.

By late September, Bush was wishing he could take a mulligan.

Mistake No. 3: getting side-tracked from the real issues. At first, Bush tried to run on Bill Clintonís character. "I will restore dignity to the Oval Office," became his mantra.

But nobody cared about Monica Lewinsky anymore, and they certainly weren't going to blame Al Gore for Clinton's mistakes. Then, remember all the time and paid commercials Bush spent debating the debates? A total waste of time and money. The more he insisted on his own format -- with hand-picked moderators and smaller audiences -- the more childish and chicken he appeared.

By the time Bush got around to issues people care about -- prescription drugs, education, environment, Social Security, Medicare, keeping the economy strong -- Al Gore owned the field. Bush was constantly playing catch-up. He could never hold his own against the better prepared and more experienced Gore.

Which, of course, triggered Bushís final and fatal mistake: going negative.

As in the primaries, once he fell behind in the polls, Bush went nasty. It started with the ad accusing Gore of lying about the Buddhist Temple, and spiraled downhill from there.

But Bush should have known those personal attacks would backfire because heís the one who first argued, correctly, that people were eager for someone to change the tone of politics this year. He promised to, but he didn't. He was hoisted on his own petard.

Never did so much political promise crash so far, so fast. Bush started out the clear favorite and expected winner. He blew it. He just wasn't ready for the major leagues. Republicans would have been a lot smarter going with John McCain.

In the end, it was close. But Al Gore and Joe Lieberman carried the day and George Bush limped back to Austin. The Bush dynasty will have to wait for another day.

Dear Reader: Save this column. If Iím wrong, Iíll eat it on "Crossfire" on November 8.

Where do Bush and Gore stand on issues of importance to Europe? Launch our Interactive Guide.

View the latest tracking poll or dig into our poll archives.


Watch selected policy speeches and campaign commercials from the major presidential candidates.

See where George W. Bush and Al Gore stand on the major issues.

Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? What are the presidential primary results and exit polls? Find out with these state political and election facts.

Get Election 2000 zip code searchable candidate biographies and other material for races for governor, Senate and House in our Election Guide.

How much money have the candidates raised? Here are their quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commission.

If you need to know who's up in 2000 and what seats are open, launch this quick guide.

WEB WHITE AND BLUE is a partner in the Web White and Blue rolling cyber-debate, a daily online exchange among the major presidential candidates. Look for twice-daily updates Sunday through Friday until election day.


Thursday, September 7, 2000


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