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Election 2000

Newsweek's Kenneth Auchincloss on the election behind the scenes

November 13, 2000
11 a.m. EST

Gore, Bush, Whitehouse Photo(CNN) -- In one of the closest presidential races in U.S. history, public interest in the candidates and what really happened behind the scenes of the individual campaigns is high. Newsweek had a reporter following each of the contestants -- Bush, Gore, Bradley and McCain -- for over a year and has published a special edition providing a look behind the public personas of the candidates as they tried to be the next to take up residence in the White House.

Kenneth Auchincloss is Newsweek's editor-at-large, in charge of special issues. For the past four elections Auchincloss was the editor of Newsweek's award winning election chronicle. Auchincloss has held several positions at Newsweek including international editor and editor of Newsweek's U.S. edition.

Chat Moderator: Good morning, Kenneth Auchincloss, and welcome to Allpolitics Chat.

Kenneth Auchincloss: Hi, I'm Ken Auchincloss at Newsweek. I edited the book-length account of the extraordinary presidential election that appears in the issue of Newsweek out this week. I'd be glad to take any questions.

Chat Moderator: Can you describe the special access Newsweek had to the candidates' campaigns, and how many Newsweek people were involved in this project?

Kenneth Auchincloss: We had four reporters in the field for more than a year. One of them was on Gore, one on Bush, one on Bradley and one on McCain. The ones on Bradley and McCain shifted to other subjects when their man dropped out. Each of them promised that any information they obtained would not be published or even revealed to all but a very small group of people at Newsweek until after Election Day. With that understanding, they got access to a lot of behind-the-scenes planning, debate and revealing incidents that were never reported during the campaign itself.

Question from Girl o' ska: Mr. Auchincloss, if Mr. Bush wins the Electoral College -- even though he lost the popular vote by 250,000 votes -- do you think he will still have enough support to run the country effectively?

Kenneth Auchincloss: Yes, I think he will have enough support. Obviously, his first order of business -- or Al Gore's, if he should win -- will be to try to reach out to the opposing party and repair some of the damage that's been done by this amazing post-election battle to determine the winner. Among politicians, I am sure that there will be resentments that last. But among ordinary citizens, I think there will quite soon be a closing of the ranks behind the new president.

Question from Jester: Do you believe voter turnout would be increased or decreased on a re-vote?

Kenneth Auchincloss: It would be hugely increased, and that's one reason why I think a re-vote in Palm Beach county or anywhere else would be improper. Enormous pressure, perhaps even improper pressure, would be put on the voters of any district that had a re-vote. And that, it seems to me, would greatly distort the results. In any presidential election, one key to fairness is that everyone in the country votes at the same time.

Question from RCarlos: Why did Governor Bush stop campaigning on Sunday the 5th?

Kenneth Auchincloss: That's, in fact, not true. Governor Bush was campaigning all day on Monday and returned to his home in Austin only on Monday night.

Question from Freedom: As a reporter, do you feel the media is creating a hysteria in our country that is causing much of the frustration around this recount with the release of "exit poll" result vs. waiting for official results? And do you think this will change the way the media covers future elections?

  • Presidential Race 2000

  • The Election Process

Kenneth Auchincloss: Well, I think there was great embarrassment at the networks at the bizarre calls and re-calls of the Florida vote on Election Night. I think that we can be sure that the networks will be more careful next time, not only in interpreting exit polls, but also in calling states before all the polls have closed. However, this is not the first time this kind of thing has happened, and we all know that the competitive juices flow very strongly among the television networks. They all want to be first with the news, so I'm not too optimistic that something like this won't happen again. I just hope, though, that it won't be quite so momentous.

Chat Moderator: Did you find that either Gore or Bush presented much differently behind the scenes, compared to what the public saw through television or print interviews?

Kenneth Auchincloss: Yes, there was a big difference. The Gore camp was much more divided, argumentative, and at times, angry among themselves. Some Gore aides, for example, fell out of favor and dropped out of sight, only to return later when the campaign needed them. They argued about media. Some wanted to use more TV ads, some thought it was important to try to spin the news media their way. They argued at the end of the race about whether to get negative about Governor Bush and his capacity to govern, or whether to stay on the high road.

In the Bush camp, things were much more calm and congenial, and that's one reason why, at the end, the Bush advisors were exuding such confidence. They admitted to us on Election Day that that confidence was mostly just for show. They thought it might sway voters who wanted to join the winning side.

Question from Californiadem: Is the power sharing idea proposed by Tom Daschle in the Senate likely to take hold, and could a similar idea be applied to the executive branch, with the president appointing many members of the opposing party in his administration?

Kenneth Auchincloss: I think that our system is very unlikely to work with power sharing in Congress. One party or the other has to run the committees, and I think chaos would result from any alternative. In the executive branch, the situation is a little different. The new president, whoever he is, will have to reach out to the opposing party and appointing cabinet members from the opposite party is certainly one way of doing this. But I wouldn't really call that power sharing.

Question from Moms4Bush: Overall feelings of the people regarding news coverage of Election Night are that the media was irresponsible in their reporting. Why not wait until all votes are counted before reporting ANYTHING that could possibly influence a voter on the day of the election? How do you feel about this?

Kenneth Auchincloss: Well, at Newsweek we are in a lucky position, because, of course, there is no way that we can report early results. Certainly the television networks were much too hasty and irresponsible about their calls in Florida and perhaps some other states. I'm not sure, though, that the country would tolerate a situation in which TV withheld all information until the last polls close in the Western time zones. The fact is that a lot of voting information does become available earlier in Election Night, and it would get out on the Internet, even if television decided to hold it back. So I don't think there is a neat solution to this problem.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?

Kenneth Auchincloss: My final thought is this: What we are seeing now in Florida is messy and exasperating, but it's really a demonstration of democracy at work. Elections under our system can be swayed by just a handful of votes. And instead of thinking that there is something shameful about an election ending up this way, I think that we should take a certain amount of pride in the fact that we live under democratic rules. It is not always neat. In fact, democracy is one of the messier systems of government. But it is on the whole fair, and this election perhaps shows it at its most basic.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Kenneth Auchincloss.

Kenneth Auchincloss: Goodbye. It's been fun being with all of you today. Let's hope all this is over by the end of the week!

Kenneth Auchincloss joined the chat via telephone from New York. CNN provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Monday, November 13, 2000.

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