The Electability Problem

March 18, 1992

Gov. Bill Clinton may indeed have an "electability problem," as his critics still say. His well-publicized brushes with scandal in regards to military service, womanizing and conflicts of interest may be damaging to him if he is the Democratic nominee for president. But one thing was proved yesterday in Illinois and Michigan. Paul Tsongas and Edmund G. Brown Jr. have a much more serious problem. They have a "nominate-ability problem."

It is now difficult to foresee any set of circumstances in which the Democratic Party would choose either the former Massachusetts senator or the former California governor to head the party's ticket. They have been thoroughly trounced by Governor Clinton not only in his own region, but in the extremely important neutral territory of the big-state, industrial, diverse American heartland.

Even should future revelations regarding Governor Clinton be so wounding as to force him from the race, Democrats are not likely to choose either of the two candidates who fared so poorly in Illinois and Michigan. Governor Brown's second place finish in Michigan probably tells the nation less about his strength than about Paul Tsongas' weakness.

Governor Clinton's has been impressive performance. He has put together a coalition of the traditional pillars of the party -- labor, blacks, elected leaders in Washington and state capitals. Despite their doubts about him, they -- and the voters -- are saying at least that that he is easily the best choice available. They may be saying something more positive. They may be saying that his display of true grit under pressure is in fact their idea of being presidential. He may have done this well against even stronger opposition.

The Clinton coalition, heavily weighted to relatively lower income Democrats, is not enough to elect a president. The other side of that coin is that without it no Democrat can be elected.

This has been a campaign of sudden surprises, and perhaps more are ahead. Perhaps Senator Tsongas or Governor Brown will bring off an upset in New York next month or in California in June. Such would probably not validate their candidacies. They have simply done too poorly in the South and the heart of the Middle West. Neither has a mathematical chance of getting a majority of the delegates between now and the convention. Critics say Bill Clinton is "damaged goods." Electorally, the label is more appropriate for his opponents.

On the Republican side, what was apparent to everybody else last Tuesday night is now apparent even to Pat Buchanan. The harder he campaigns the more ineffective he gets. Do not be surprised if he himself says today that while his campaign will continue, it is no longer to be taken seriously.

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