Ten reasons not to count Clinton out

SANDY GRADY

April 20, 1992|By Sandy Grady

Washington -- A 50-state landslide." "Worst fiasco since George McGovern." "They'll beat on him like a drum." "Unelectable."

Those are just quotes you hear from Democrats who mourn Bill Clinton's chances -- slim and none -- against George Bush.

Gloom-and-doom Dems are ready to call the meat wagon for Mr. Clinton. Why not? For three months Mr. Clinton has been banged so hard by sex-draft-and-pot stories, he has a lousier image than Manuel Noriega's. Each time Mr. Clinton wins a primary, the yelp rises for "somebody else in the race."

Given his brutal negatives, anybody proposing that Mr. Clinton has an even shot at Mr. Bush -- and could win down the October stretch -- deserves whoops of laughter.

OK, laugh.

My thesis: It's a War of the Wounded. Each one is flawed. While Mr. Clinton has been chewed up in a 90-day torture test, Mr. Bush's exposure to the meat grinder is yet to come.

Anyone predicting a presidential election in April -- and I'm not -- has to be reckless or sniffing illegal substances.

But the Fat Lady ain't tuned up yet. Sure, Mr. Clinton's hammered for personal foibles. What of Mr. Bush's historic 59 percent disapproval rating? Don't tell me an incumbent president who's been losing one-third of the Republican vote to a talk-show gabber is King Kong. Or a president with a 49-41 lead (CNN) over a scandal-battered challenger is invincible.

No prediction. But 10 reasons why Mr. Clinton has at least a 50-50 chance against Mr. Bush:

1. "Are You Better Off Than You Were Four years Ago?"

Ronald Reagan's devastating 1980 question will haunt Mr. Bush. So will Mr. Bush's promise of 30 million new jobs. The economy may be trending upward. But layoff anxiety, 7 percent unemployment and a $46 billion trade imbalance with Japan feed fears of a long U.S. slide.

"Clinton shouldn't have a chance, but he does," GOP pollster William McInturff told Time. "It's the economy. Bush is very vulnerable -- if Clinton doesn't blow it."

2. "Throw-the-Bums Out" Syndrome.

Anger toward Washington blows like a sirocco through every primary. Mr. Bush shakes his fist at Congress's gridlock and check-bouncing. But White House passivity and perks are equal targets. Mr. Bush, Washington insider for 23 years, could get swept in the bums' rush.

3. "Time for a Change" Rebellion.

Most dangerous poll number for an incumbent president is the 75 percent who worry that "America's on the wrong track." It's amusing to hear Mr. Bush use the word "change" 22 times in one speech, as if he hadn't been around the White House 12 years. How can Mr. Bush hype himself as a reformer with fresh ideas?

4. The Two-Way Mud-Slinging Contest.

Sure, Mr. Bush brags he'd told his campaign, "Stay out of the sleaze business." He must be kidding.

Republicans have piles of glop to throw at Mr. Clinton. But Mr. Bush's family and associates are open to scrutiny, including the S&L shadow over Neil Bush and business deals by Mr. Bush's brothers. Top Bush campaign aides -- as Mr. Buchanan razzed in TV ads -- are lobbyists connected to Japan, Detroit automakers and the dreaded BCCI. In what Kevin Phillips calls the "mother of all dirty campaigns," Mr. Bush won't go unmuddied.

5. "The Russians Aren't Coming."

The Cold War's end defangs the Red Scare weapon Republicans brandished for 40 years. Mr. Bush's Desert Storm triumph fades. With voters' anxiety concentrated at home, Mr. Bush won't be as convincing in his Commander-in-Chief-of-the-World costume.

6. Young Turks vs. Old Warhorses.

Mr. Clinton's campaign staff is smart, flexible, tested in a New Hampshire-to-New York madhouse. Mr. Bush will miss '88 gunslingers Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater. His campaign is run by pollster Bob Teeter, who helped Dick Thornburgh blow a 40-point lead in Pennsylvania. Edge, Clinton.

7. Playing the Race Card.

Republicans since Richard Nixon won elections with racial codewords and Willie Horton-type ads. May not be as simple against Mr. Clinton, a Southerner who emphasizes racial healing. Subtracting Jesse Jackson from the 1992 equation helps Dems.

8. "What Do Women Want?"

Sigmund Freud's question may be a '92 key. Mr. Bush's anti-abortion stance and Mr. Clinton's pro-abortion-rights position could energize the women's vote if the Supreme Court inflames the abortion battle.

9. The Ross Perot Wild Card.

At the least, Mr. Perot may knock Texas from Mr. Bush's sure-win column. If Mr. Clinton wins 10 states Mike Dukakis took in 1988, plus the dozen Mr. Dukakis lost by under 10 points, Mr. Bush may plan a long fishing trip.

10. Personal Character vs. Political Character.

The biggie. So Mr. Clinton's "integrity" is doubted? Mr. Bush is shaky for flipflops, lack of conviction, failed vision. Whose baggage is heavier?

Cheer up, despairing Dems. Remember, Jack Kennedy was too "green," Mr. Nixon too "tricky," Mr. Reagan a "warmonger," and Mr. Bush "a wimp." Too early to call the gravediggers for Bill Clinton.

Sandy Grady is a syndicated columnist.

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