On (Not) Seizing Opportunities
by Kirsten Andersen


Since September 11, President George W. Bush has enjoyed phenomenal approval ratings. At no time since the terrorist attacks have his approvals dipped below 80%, and during the first strike against the Taliban in early October, they even reached as high as 92%, according to some reports.

With popularity like this, one would expect our President to have some extra to pass around. And during yesterday's crucial gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, President Bush's fellow Republicans definitely needed him to share.

Former Attorney General Mark Earley of Virginia and former Mayor Bret Schundler of Jersey City, New Jersey both lost tough races to their Democrat opponents on November 6. They were two very different candidates--Earley, a dull establishment candidate handpicked by the Republican Party; Schundler, a dynamic underdog who had to fight his own party to even get on the ticket. Both ran lackluster races, but so did their (ultimately victorious) foes.

Schundler, running in heavily Democrat New Jersey, was admittedly a longshot for Governor. Despite his warm personality, TV star looks and history of innovative solutions to Jersey City's myriad problems, his conservative (and correct) views on issues like abortion and second amendment rights were demonized by the media and left-wing interest groups alike.

Further compounding Schundler's problems was his virtual abandonment by the Republican party in New Jersey. After Schundler narrowly defeated the party-backed candidate in a nasty, last minute primary battle, New Jersey Republicans never seemed to get over the sting of the loss. They remained nearly silent as Schundler's poll numbers dropped from almost even with Governor-elect Jim McGreevey’s to a low of 32%. In the final days before the General Election, prominent Republicans endorsed him (including outgoing NYC Mayor Rudy Giulani, whose approval rating must hover somewhere around 110%), but it was too little, too late.

In Virginia, Mark Earley lost to multimillionaire Mark Warner. A small contributing factor could have been sheer confusion: Virginia already has a U.S. Senator (John) Warner--in fact, 1996's Senate race featured John Warner vs. Mark Warner. This time, it was Mark Warner vs. Mark Earley for the Governor's mansion, and all those duplicate names had to give at least a few people problems.

Warner ran a deceptive and dirty race from the beginning. This unctuous cretin ran for office in Virginia before, but as a liberal Democrat. It took him a bruising defeat in 1996 to realize that most Virginians do not like, and more importantly, will not vote for liberal Democrats. So he tried again, this time for a different seat as a completely different person—a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and social moderate. The only real problem with this seemingly winning strategy is that it forced him to lie through his teeth throughout the campaign—after all, this ‘fiscal conservative’ advocated a $900 million tax hike. But for this Bill Clinton clone disguised as Gray Davis, lying seems not to present much of a problem at all.

Today is a sad day for both New Jersey and Virginia. For New Jersey, this is a lost opportunity to bring fresh, intelligent ideas to a state widely viewed as a bastion of political corruption. In Virginia, Mark Warner will at best be a dark blemish on an otherwise (mostly) freedom-loving Old Dominion.

Both of these local tragedies could have been averted by one man: President Bush. There are those who argue that our President has better things to do--we are, after all, "at war." But our President was not so busy that he could not find time to fly to New York and throw the first (okay, really great) pitch at Game 3 of the World Series. And one newspaper recently ran a story detailing all the recreational activities the President has made time for at Camp David each and every weekend since September 11.

No one begrudges the President his badly needed leisure time, but surely he could have spared one recent weekend to stump for a couple of fellow Republicans. Time could not have been an issue--a flight from Andrews AFB to Newark takes about an hour, and Virginia is literally down the street from the White House.

Neither lack of time nor previous engagements caused President Bush to effectively leave Schundler and Earley twisting in the wind. The real reason for Bush's public silence concerning these two candidates seems to be his penchant for bipartisanship. Rather than anger his liberal adversaries by playing partisan politics, President Bush let the GOP down quietly. These are the games that made him popular in Texas, and they are the games that keep him popular now. But popularity is not everything--even Bush's one-term father once enjoyed 90% approval ratings. Popularity is a commodity, just like money. It matters not how much you have, but what you do with it.

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