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Election Reflections: Bill Schneider
Bill Schneider, one of the country's leading political commentators, is CNN's senior political analyst.
CNN Moderator: Good morning and welcome to CNN Election Reflections, Bill Schneider.
Bill Schneider: Happy to be here.
CNN Moderator: What are your most outstanding thoughts and memories from election night?
Bill Schneider: Being on the set for 13 hours. That was quite an ordeal. And being very hungry, and holding up a sign that said ‘Will analyze for food’. And someone brought me fried chicken which I could not eat on the set. I subsisted on bread and water until 6:00 a.m..
Usually on election night, you have a sense that things are moving in a particular direction--very democratic, say, in 1992, or republican in 1980. But November 7th had no sense of momentum.
Question from Rosie: Why were people so apathetic before the election and so passionate afterward?
Bill Schneider: I think that neither candidate really captured the popular imagination. In fact, I would argue that only one contender did that this year, and that was John McCain. When he dropped out of the race in March many voters lost interest and saw a choice between Bush and Gore as uninspiring. After Election Day it was not so much the candidates, but the contest, that became exciting. We were in unknown territory with untested procedures, and most of all, no one knew how it would turn out.
Question from Daniel: There's usually a magic on election night due to the excitement and anticipation of the unknown. There was no magic November 7th, just confusion.
Bill Schneider: Oh, I thought there was plenty of magic just because we had never seen anything like this before. I do think that the concentration on a few battleground states made the contest less interesting because we said that if those states all go for one candidate, it's over.
CNN Moderator: Can you tell us about some of your "I can’t believe this is happening" moments of the 35 days following Nov. 7?
Bill Schneider: I suppose the prime moment was the Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago when the Florida Supreme Court ordered the recount to proceed. That was just after the Seminole and Martin County challenges were rejected. It looked like the end was near for Gore, and suddenly the whole race started over again. It was quite unbelievable to see the recount mechanisms moving back into place. Nothing could top that until the following day when the U.S. Supreme Court shut the process down.
Question from Daniel: Wasn't it just as shocking when the U.S. Supreme Court sent the decision back to Florida?
Bill Schneider: I assume the questioner means the first decision. No, I regarded that as a punt by the Supreme Court. By then the Supreme Court's decision in that particular case seemed less important because we had moved into the contest phase, and the case being decided by the Supreme Court had to do with the earlier protest phase. As it turned out, however, the U.S. Supreme Court was sending a powerful signal to the Florida Supreme Court that the Florida court failed to recognize when it went ahead and ordered the recount.
CNN Moderator: What were some of the unique challenges that CNN as a network and you as an analyst faced in covering this particular election?
Bill Schneider: Mostly that nothing like this had ever happened before, and we were all feeling our way along. We did not know what to expect or even what the rules were. No one did! Including the courts, the candidates, the attorneys, and the election authorities. We just made it up as we went along.
Question from whitey: What do you think Gore's chances are if he runs for president in 2004?
Bill Schneider: Right now Gore looks like the moral victor to a lot of voters. After all, he beat Bush nationally by more than half a million votes. However, a lot of Democrats have been critical of him for blowing an election that should have been a sure-thing. He is subject to a good deal of criticism for running a poor campaign. Whether he is a strong candidate in 2004 depends mostly on how President Bush does. If Bush is a disaster and many voters conclude this election was a mistake, Gore will look good. If Bush looks strong in 2004, Democrats will want to move on to something else.
Question from rik: Because of the events in Florida and the election overall, what actions if any will the present government or courts take to make sure such a mishap, to say the least, will never occur again?
Bill Schneider: I believe there will be action by Congress to study nationwide improvements and reforms in voting procedures, followed by grants to states to modernize and standardize their procedures. That's important because local governments rarely have the money to spend on voting procedures. Constituents would rather see the funds used for more important purposes like schools and roads. Some people are talking about abolition or reform of the Electoral College system, as well. While that will be discussed, I do not think a direct popular vote nationwide vote for president is likely to happen.
CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?
Bill Schneider: This was an unusual, exciting, and exasperating experience for everyone. It was quite something to go through, and I hope we never have to go through it again.
CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Bill Schneider.
Bill Schneider: My pleasure to be with you, and happy holidays.
Bill Schneider joined the chat via telephone from Washington, DC. CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview.
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