WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) -- It's still likely to be Gore in '04. Ironically, one of the main reasons for that fact is the coverage patterns of the same media, which seems to be most upset by this prospect.
The recent "cattle show" held by the Florida Democratic Party underscores this unpalatable truth -- unpalatable, at least to the same pundits who spent the entire 2000 campaign burying Al Gore and to the Democratic political establishment which blames Gore for "blowing the election."
Whatever pundits and the Washington establishment think, Gore's nomination in 2004 is likely for three reasons: history, ideology, and coverage.
History: As I pointed out on Christmas Day of 2000, candidates who seek their party's nominations again after having been defeated in previous general elections are actually more likely to get it than not.
And they have a pretty good chance of being elected president -- the list of men who won after losing the last time their party nominated them for president includes Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Grover Cleveland and Richard Nixon.
More to the point, on six occasions these losers ran a rematch just four years later against the man who had beaten them -- and four of them won: Jefferson, Jackson, W.H. Harrison and Cleveland. The losers were Bryan and Stevenson.
Given the circumstances of the 2000 election, it is particularly worth noting that two of the winners were among the three candidates who lost an election although they led in the popular vote. The third, Gov. Samuel J. Tilden of New York, was in poor health and never ran for office again.
In all these re-runs, the votes didn't change much; the five "swings" toward the challenger were one point, four points, one point, minus one point and minus two points. That's an average vote shift of 0.6% to the challenger.
So if Gore and Bush ran against each other again, the past suggests another close race, with a slight edge for Gore.
Ideology: The first point to be made here is that Democrats don't differ much on ideology. It is already possible to describe the positions on issues of the next Democratic presidential candidate -- essentially indistinguishable from those of Bill Clinton. That candidate will be liberal on all social issues except the death penalty, pro-labor except when it interferes with the demands of business, pro-environmentalist, pro-free trade and pro-Israel.
Front-runners usually only lose when parties are sharply divided. Not only does Gore sit in the dead center of the party as it is now, he is also far in the lead. According to the latest Zogby poll, he leads second-place Hillary Clinton by 36 percent to 18 percent. Take Hillary out, and Gore leads Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., by 46 percent to 7 percent.
Aren't front-runners often defeated for presidential nominations? Actually, they're not. You have to go all the way back to Jimmy Carter to find a real underdog nomination. And that was a long time ago, in an ideologically divided party.
Gore may not be loved, but neither is he hated, and passion is necessary to defeat a front-runner.
Media: It is well known that the election calendar is compressed, but what is even more important is that the media, in its collective wisdom, has proclaimed that it wants presidential primary campaigns to be over quickly, perhaps so that it can then complain for six months about how it was over too quickly.
More importantly, the dumbed-down media has decided that the voter's tiny minds -- or their own -- can't keep more than two candidates at the same time.
If one looks at the nomination campaigns of 1972, and 1976, it was the multiplicity of candidates that allowed underdogs George McGovern and Jimmy Carter to win. McGovern won from the left and Carter from the right because they faced multiple opponents.
That can't happen any more, because the media winnow the field down to two so very quickly.
And that in itself ensures that the front-runner is going to be one of two candidates. The results are unsurprising, except to a media, which has no memory -- a "surprise challenger" always emerges within the last few months, and the surprise challenger always ends up losing to the front-runner. Think Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Paul Tsongas, Pat Buchanan, John McCain.
This always gives the press two months of stories about whatever "revolution" is at hand, before the dull business of noting that the front-runner has won the nomination is accomplished.
Since Gore is right in the center of his party, whomever this challenger is will, perforce, find himself a touch too far to the right or to the left to win the nomination. That's the advantage that present media coverage gives to the guy on top -- he has lots of time to position himself JUST so, while his last-minute opponent, whomever it may turn out to be, doesn't have time to figure out where to put himself. He's "stuck" with whatever got him the last month's headlines.
Conclusion: The arguments against Gore come down to one -- he blew a winnable race, largely because he wasn't an attractive personality.
To which there is always one reply -- Richard Nixon.
It is not as if the shining light of the personality of the other candidates is going to force Gore aside. In fact, Ronald Reagan, Mr. Personality himself, made little impression against Nixon in 1968.
I expect to be able to write this same story in 2003, and, most likely in 2004, when the media will be surprised that the apparently unthinkable but in fact almost inevitable renomination of Al Gore will have taken place. Expect at that point another six months of piteous bleating from the pundits about the awful prospect. That's something none of us can look forward to.