WASHINGTON A group of moderate Democrats contends Al Gore's populist presidential campaign wasn't aimed at suburban residents, moderates and upper middle class whites he needed to defeat George W. Bush.
The Democratic Leadership Council, "new Democrats" who helped propel Bill Clinton to power with a centrist appeal, have released an analysis that highlights several reasons it thinks Gore was unsuccessful against eventual winner Bush most significantly his steady appeals to the working class.
Gore had the Green Party's Ralph Nader draining votes from him, rather than Ross Perot dampening support for the Republican candidate, a factor not emphasized by the group's leader Tuesday.
"Given the fundamentals, the good economy, the fact that crime and welfare were down, the vice president should have won by a comfortable margin," said Al From, founder and chief executive of the moderate Democratic group.
Gore aides said during the campaign that he was trying to blend the new Democrats' moderate message with an outreach to those who felt the new economy had left them behind. Gore campaign research suggested the populist message would hit home with the small group of undecideds the campaign was pursuing in the very close race. Officials in his transition office did not return calls.
Gore did well among groups he targeted with his pledge to "fight for working families," he didn't do well enough among groups like suburbanites, moderates and the upper middle class, From said.
Many political observers predicted Gore would win with a healthy majority of the vote because of the strong economy and general approval of President Clinton's job performance. Gore and eventual winner George W. Bush ended in a virtual tie, with the election settled by less than 1,000 votes in Florida.
"Democrats need to have a broad coalition to win," From said. "We need to expand beyond our Democratic base."
The council released an analysis of election results and a survey by Democratic pollster Mark Penn to highlight the kind of course correction it feels is needed for Democrats to recapture the White House.
Penn's research suggested Gore won on individual issues, but President Bush won the campaign on broader themes like reducing the size of the government and changing the tone in Washington. Penn found that Gore's "old-style populism" prevented him from reaching key voters, especially in key border states and in his home state of Tennessee.
DLC founder From wrote in his analysis of the election that Democrats need to build a new majority, not rely on the Democratic coalitions from years past.
The Democratic coalition "must expand beyond our Democratic base ... and must include men as well as women, whites as well as African-Americans and Hispanics, suburbanites as well as city dwellers, moderates and even some conservatives as well as liberals."
Democrats should not obsess about the Gore campaign's loss but begin working toward elections in 2002 and 2004, From said.
Key to renewed success by the Democrats is recognizing the changes in the country and realizing that a populist campaign causes voters to view a candidate as liberal and identified with "big government," he said. The new economy is causing dramatic changes in the voting public, he said, blurring the sharp class differences of an earlier era.
"America is changing. It's becoming more affluent, more educated, more suburban, more wired, more moderate and more diverse," From said. "To put together a majority, you have to talk to the country as it is."
He noted that Gore has been a strong supporter of the council and had a role in developing the new Democrats' strategy.
"The vice president was one of the leaders in shaping policies for the new economy," From said. "Al Gore has terrific credentials for running a winning campaign. But in this campaign, he chose to run a more populist strategy that didn't take advantage of those credentials."
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press