Knife at the GOP's Throat

JOHN TORTORICE

December 02, 1992|By JOHN TORTORICE

San Francisco. -- When Clinton campaign strategist David Wilhelm began putting together a battle plan for the election, he did not say, ''What we need are first time voters!'' Or ''two-income families.'' Or ''veterans,'' or ''suburban women.'' Mr. Wilhelm said, ''We need California, Illinois, New York!''

He divided the nation into three tiers of states: sure-wins, toss-ups and tough-sells. Resources were allocated to the toss-ups, away from the sure-wins and tough-sells.

The results proved being old-fashioned is back in fashion. A look at an electoral map of the Clinton victory, shows that electoral regionalism is anything but dead. Mr. Clinton took the ''progressive West,'' the upper Midwest, New England and the Mid-Atlantics.

He got Louisiana because there is a depression going on down there, Arkansas and Tennessee as favorite sons, Kentucky because he got Tennessee, and Georgia because it got the Olympics. Georgians recently decided they don't want to be part of the South anymore.

George Bush held the South, mostly, the Mountain states, mostly, and the Plains, mostly.

Now, let's do some numbers the old-fashioned way.

Mr. Clinton and the Democrats have 14 ''base'' states, with a total of 191 electoral votes. Each of these states gave Mr. Clinton a plurality of 10 percent or more.

Mr. Bush and the Republicans have 4 ''base'' states, for a total of 17 electoral votes.

Ross Perot has 9 ''base'' states, with 39 electoral votes. These are states which gave him 25 percent or more of their vote.

Now, 1992 was like 1980 or 1968 or 1960 or 1932. The odds of 1996 being another of these epochal election years are pretty slim, history tells us, so Mr. Clinton will have a mostly sympathetic Congress, the full power of the incumbency and 174 ''base'' electoral votes as a head start.

Things get interesting, though, when you look at Mr. Perot's strength. Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming all give him 25 percent or more of their vote.

This configuration of states closely resembles the abortive ''Wildfire'' rebellion of the late 1970s, as well as the Grange revival of a century earlier. These are states with a strong anti-Washington, contrarian history. They have mostly gone Republican, and make up an important part of the party's remaining strength in the Senate.

Which is like a knife to the throat of the party.

Ten Senate seats from these states will be contested in the next two elections, and they are now held by two Democrats and eight Republicans. If Mr. Perot is interested in turning his $60 million whim into something more permanent, these ten Senate seats would make for a nice start.

Given the predominantly rural nature of these states and their political history, they should be easier to organize and will provide the biggest political bang for the buck that one can find on the political landscape.

Which leaves the Republicans in deeper doo-doo than many suspect, especially if they pursue the sour-grapes and obstructionism which seems to tempt them so. Or turn to the right.

Can't you just see Mr. Perot broadcasting live, for a pittance, to all the TV stations in Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, each of which has a Senate seat up in the 1994 mid-year elections, saying, ''The Democrats have doubled the national deficit since Clinton took office and all the Republicans want to talk about is school prayer. Well, I'll tell you, prayer ain't going to help if we don't stop this right now and vote in someone new.''

And if Mr. Perot does eat away at Republican support in the Plains and Mountain states, the last bastion of the Grand Old Party will be the South.

I wonder what Mr. Lincoln would think of what the present stewards have made of his party.

John Tortorice is a free-lance writer.

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