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Alexander Might Have Done Better

By Bill Schneider/CNN

WASHINGTON (Nov. 1) -- Bob Bole's prospects of winning the election next week don't look very bright.

More than 200 public polls have been taken this year, and Dole has not been ahead in a single one.

This week's question is, which Republican candidate would have had the best chance of defeating President Clinton?

Was it...

A) Pat Buchanan?

B) Pete Wilson?

C) Lamar Alexander?

D) Steve Forbes?

E) Bob Bole?

And the answer is... C) Lamar Alexander

Any challenger running against an incumbent has to sell change. Dole's problem is that he doesn't look like a candidate of change to most voters, not after 35 years in Washington.

Buchanan, Forbes and Alexander all marketed themselves as political outsiders. Remember those flannel shirts? But Buchanan? Too extreme. He could never have competed with Clinton for mainstream votes.

Forbes had a big problem. He was too rich. Democrats do fine with candidates born to wealth and privilege like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. They're Democrats. They're traitors to their class.

Republicans don't do well with candidates born to wealth and privilege. They confirm the most damaging stereotype of the GOP, that it's the party of wealth and privilege.

Alexander, the moderate conservative, the self-styled outsider and the man of modest origins, was Clinton's biggest threat. Would Alexander have done better than Dole? Probably. Would he have done better than Clinton? That's unlikely. This year's election is a referendum on President Clinton, not on his Republican opponent, and no incumbent president with a job approval rating in the high 50's loses a bid for re-election, no matter who the opposition puts up.

Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno: As usual we got a fair bit o viewer e-mail on this topic, via our CNN-TIME AllPolitics Website. Most people picked Alexander.

But Christopher Moore of Toronto picked Pete Wilson, and here's his reasoning: "I think Pete Wilson would have had the best chance...able to carry California and...able to ignite the affirmative action and immigration issues where Clinton is weak."

Schneider: Pete Wilson would have been an interesting choice. He has been elected in California statewide four times. He is a moderate on some issues, like abortion, and he's a tough guy. But the problem with him as the nominee is that he would have provoked a showdown over the abortion issue, and that might have split the GOP. Sooner or later, the Republicans are going to have to have that showdown over the abortion issue, but whenever it happens, it's likely to be devastating for the party's prospect in the general election.

This commentary originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics." This is the final Political Aptitude Test for the 1996 campaign.

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