||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
Stuart Rothenberg: The fat lady sings
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The biggest surprise on Tuesday night was the lack of surprises.
On the Democratic side, African-American voters went overwhelmingly for Al Gore over Bill Bradley, as did union members. On the GOP side, members of the religious right, Republicans and conservatives lined up behind Gov. George W. Bush, while Sen. John McCain did well among Independents and Democrats, and in New England.
Core Democratic constituencies stayed true to Gore, while core Republican constituencies remained true to Bush.
The former New York Knicks star couldn't carry New York or Missouri, his home state. He didn't come close. And he got spanked in California, where he raised so much money, and Ohio, where he once hoped to compete with Gore. Even liberal New England let Bradley down.
Bradley's showing wasn't a surprise given pre-primary polling, as well as the former senator's recent body language. But considering where Bradley stood in mid- to late 1999, with plenty of cash in the bank and a sincerity that matched McCain's, it is hard to believe that the former senator's presidential effort came up so empty.
Sure, part of his problem was McCain's success, but even Bradley's friends can't say with a straight face that Bradley's entire failure could be attributed to the presence of the Arizona Republican in the GOP contest.
McCain may have had a real chance to win the GOP nomination, but he needed to find a way of appealing to Republicans. Instead, Bush polarized the race after New Hampshire, successfully portraying McCain as some kind of raving liberal. To be sure, McCain helped bring about his own demise with attacks on Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, but much of it was Bush's doing.
In the end, the sheer size of Gore's and Bush's campaign -- of their money, endorsements, organization and inevitability -- helped them turn back the insurgents.
Republican nominations over the past 40 years have almost always been won by the early front-runner (Barry Goldwater's victory over Nelson Rockefeller in 1964 was an exception), while the Democrats have been more likely to embrace a quirky insurgent, whether George McGovern or Jimmy Carter. But in this case, the Democratic front-runner was the sitting vice president, not just any old favorite of the establishment.
So is there nothing new about the March 7th results? Sure there is!
What's new is that the fight for the Republican and Democratic nominations, which just four or five weeks ago seemed up for grabs, ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Bradley and McCain simply bombed on March 7th.
Now the two parties can spend the next few weeks regrouping, as Gore and Bush try to figure out how to heal the wounds, overcome the bitterness, and refocus their sights on each other.
Both men have to come up with a way of attracting the pro-reform, pro-change voters who were attracted to John McCain and Bill Bradley. Neither of the two nominees has much of a personal story to attract voters. McCain is a war hero who was tortured and imprisoned by the enemy. Bradley was a serious, thoughtful Princeton jock who won an NBA world championship title. In contrast, Gore and Bradley are children of politicians and wealth.
And since neither Bush nor Gore is an obvious agent of change or reform, it's not clear whether new voters brought into this year's primaries will simply drop out of the electorate, or whether they'll find another horse to ride. But until the Reform Party picks its nominee, at least we know who the two horses are: Al Gore and George W. Bush.