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Bill Schneider: The stakes in Election 2000

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Times are good. The nation's at peace. The crime rate is down. To many voters, the election looks like a choice between Prince Albert and Prince George.

What's really at stake in this election? According to Republican George W. Bush, the compassionate conservative, "there's a big divide in this campaign.''

Democrat Al Gore, the populist, says, "My friends, so much is at stake.''

They're both right. The two candidates certainly differ in philosophy on important issues like taxing and spending, environmental regulation, Medicare reform, missile defense and affirmative action.

But there are other matters at stake.

One is the Supreme Court. The new president is likely to have the opportunity to appoint several new justices. Gore addresses this frequently on the stump.

Last term, the Supreme Court split by the narrowest possible margin -- 5-4 -- in 21 out of 74 cases.

They split on matters such as gun control, late-term abortions, crimes against women and gay rights. A change of one or two justices could affect the outcome on those and other key issues.

Then, there's the huge budget surplus -- as much as $2 trillion.

With all that money, the next president has big decisions to make.

“You ain't seen nothing yet. We are at a fork in the road. Bush recommends that we take this surplus and squander it in a giant tax cut for the wealthy,” says Gore.

Bush disagrees. "The vice president is going around the country saying, 'You ain't seen nothing yet.' I agree. We ain't seen nothing yet. But you're going to under a new president of the United States. Once we've set our priorities, it is vital to share the surplus.''

What about Congress? Not only is this one of the the closest presidential race in decades, but control of the House and Senate could go either way.

Suppose voters elect Bush and a Republican Congress. Republicans would wake up Wednesday morning and discover that they control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for the first time since 1954. Irrational exuberance would reign supreme among conservatives.

If Gore wins and the Democrats take over Congress, the same irrational exuberance would overcome liberals. We might be back to 1993 and '94: health care plans, gays in the military, tax hikes and midnight basketball.

Suppose we end up with President Bush and a Democratic Congress. That looks like a formula for balance and moderation. But politicians would read it as a big vote for change. Why else would voters throw the GOP majority out of Congress and the Democrats out of the White House? The result would probably be four years of bitter squabbling.

If voters elect President Gore and keep the Republican Congress, then the message would be clear: no changes. But is that really the message voters want to send?

The stakes are unusually high in state elections as well. Eleven governors and 44 state legislatures are on the ballot. In 14 states, party control of the legislature would change with a shift of five or fewer seats.

Those governors and legislatures will control the redistricting process next year. What they do could determine which party controls Congress for the next decade.

High stakes, indeed.



Monday, November 6, 2000


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