THE RUST BELT tour of Bill Clinton and Albert Gore Jr. is a reminder that there's more to the Electoral College, despite what wise guys like me keep saying, than the South and the West.
If the Democrats are going to win the presidency in November they have to carry most of the states along the route of this week's bus-capade: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.
Those eight states have 117 electoral votes. The South has more (147), but the Rust Belt (that 117 plus Michigan's 18) is right up there in importance with the Plains-Mountains West, which has only 65 votes alone, and only 137 if you throw in the Pacific states.
Both parties have depended on a Rust Belt strategy in the past. In the 10 elections since the end of the war (WW II, the big one), the party that captured a majority of the eight states Clinton and Gore visited this week always won the election.
The big three states on the tour are Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. They have 66 electoral votes, one more than the 13 Plains-Mountains states. As Pennsylvania-Ohio-Illinois go, so go the nation.
They tend to vote together. In the 23 presidential elections in this century, all three states voted the same way 15 times, and each time they did, the candidate they favored won. In the eight presidential years in which the states split 2-1, the candidate who carried two of the three states won seven times. Only in 1916 was a candidate (Woodrow Wilson) able to win with only one of these three states.
* * *
Some of the reporters who traveled with the Clintongoremobiles noted the tour had a feel of Hollywood about it. No wonder. A movie producer, Mort Engleberg ("Smokey and the Bandit") (no comment), and a film crew were along shooting commercials for the fall. He took the tour in advance, selecting stops which provided good backdrops.
In addition to being a good stage, the bus trip has generated a lot of favorable publicity and pumped up the morale of the candidates, their wives and their supporters. This is October fever. To have it in July is thought to be a good symptom.
Reports from the field suggested that there was almost a convention mood along the bus stops. That is, the crowds were already familiar with and converted to the ticket. A good sign of that is the way the crowds reacted to Gore's recycling of his Madison Square Garden acceptance speech.
You might remember that he employed a rhetorical device of repeating over and over about George Bush and Dan Quayle, "It is time for them to go." The New York crowd would join in. When he asked, "What time is it?" the delegates shouted, "It is time for them to go!"
Same thing on the bus trip through the Rust Belt. But not always. At a rally in Columbus, Ohio, when Gore said, "What time is it?" a man in the crowd shouted back: