After 10 interminable months of pratfalls and prostitutes, soft money and soccer moms, malaprops and Macarenas, football and Filegate, the monotony that was Campaign 1996 is finally almost over.


November 04, 1996|By Mike Littwin | Mike Littwin,SUN STAFF

In the final days of the least memorable presidential campaign since Taft beat Bryan (campaign slogan: Why not elect a fat guy for a change?), it finally gets interesting.

The tenor of the campaign changes when Bob Dole, in desperation, asks Ross Perot to give up the race. Perot goes on Larry King to call the request "weird." And then Perot, who hates to be out-weirded, demands that Bill Clinton and his whole draft-dodgin', pot-smokin', money-stashin' staff resign, ya see. Now, kin Ah finish talkin' here?

Clinton, who hates to disappoint any eligible voter, says he'll have to check with his Indonesian connection. Dole, smelling blood, says that "Bob Dole never took any money from Indonesia, Micronesia or Amnesia." Then, in a bid to wrap up the California vote, he pledges his support for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Meanwhile, Al Gore is holed up in a Buddhist temple. Hillary Rodham Clinton is missing. Newt Gingrich is in a funk. Jack Kemp is in Harlem, in search of home-boy Republicans. And Dole, who hasn't fallen off a stage in months, is promising a final-weekend, No-Doz-sponsored, Grateful-Dead-concert-length marathon, with co-host Jerry Lewis who will join Dole at the end for a stirring rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone." There won't be a dry eye in the whatever.

If you didn't trust the polls -- Clinton even leads in Canada, 67-11 -- you might think it was an actual race.

How did we get to this point? I'm pretty sure we had to cross at least one bridge.

The highlights:

Primary colors

It begins, of course, in Iowa and New Hampshire where it always begins because, well, nobody knows why. If you've been in either place, you know it's not the food. Maybe it's the climate.

Dole and the boys are on the trail. Steven Forbes has the flat tax and the Freddy smile. Lamar Alexander is promising flannel in every closet. Patrick Buchanan is building a fence at the Canadian border. Alan Keyes goes on a hunger strike. Morry Taylor is giving away money. But the most important story is the new math, and you wonder why the Republicans want to abolish the Department of Education.

When Dole beats Buchanan in Iowa by three points, the pundits, eager for an angle, call it a "huge defeat" for Dole. Alexander finishes third in New Hampshire and calls it a "tremendous victory." Can't anybody count here? Buchanan wins New Hampshire and calls it a revolution.

In what is remembered as his anti-Camelot speech, Buchanan says his followers are peasants with pitchforks storming the castle. But then the old speech-writer gets himself into trouble when he mixes metaphors. Buchanan shows up in Tombstone, Ariz., one day dressed up like Wyatt Earp and gives his lock-and-load message. Wins over the NRA and most of the militia vote, loses the anti-monarchists.

Scandal, Part I

Back in Washington, the "missing" subpoenaed Rose law firm billing statements miraculously turn up on Hillary Clinton's dresser, prompting New York Times columnist and former Nixon speech-writer Bill Safire to call Hillary a "congenital liar." An angry Bill Clinton responds: "If anyone in this family's a congenital liar, it's me."

America applauds his honesty.

Politics per usual

Newtie has an idea. People say they hate the government, and he, naively, believes them. So, for the second time, and for a reason no one can quite remember, he shuts the whole thing down. Looking back on this January surprise, it's reminiscent of Napoleon's march on Moscow, only the weather is worse this time.

The pollsters, slogging their way through the blizzard, reveal that 72 percent of the people blame Newtie for the shutdown, 16 percent blame O. J. and 12 percent weatherman Norm Lewis. Clinton, running against the Gingrich/Dole/Lewis ticket, leads in polls by 20. Gingrich goes into self-imposed exile.

Clinton and adviser/lothario Dick Morris have their own idea: Clinton would become a Republican who promises not to shut down the government, just close it on weekends. In his State of the Union message, he says: "The era of big government is over." Ted Kennedy, shaken to his shoes, is rushed to the nearest tavern.

Dole, meanwhile, gives the Republican reply, in which he seems to be auditioning for "Grumpy Old Men III."

Presumptive nominee

Finally, and only because none of the other candidates could possibly win the nomination, Dole sweeps the South on Super Tuesday and returns to his condo in Bal Harbour, Fla., in time to enter the Zonker Harris tanning competition. Addressing the media from his chaise longue, Dole reveals that although he's no doctor, he's pretty sure that big splotchy blisters all over your body do not suggest skin cancer.

Buchanan, refusing to give up the fight, begins his Long March, mumbling something about revolution and the point of a gun.

Scandal, Part II

In Arkansas, Gov. Joe Bob Guy "Jimmy the Weasel" Tucker gets two years in a Whitewater-related trial. Asked for his reaction, Clinton says he always aspired to be an "unindicted co-conspirator."

-! America applauds his honesty.

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