Phone survey on '92 election allows fantasy


It is obviously a crank phone call or a friend disguising his voice.

"I'm a producer from CBS News, and we would like you to come on and discuss the 1992 presidential election," the caller says.

Yeah. Right. Who is this really? And where is Caller ID now that I need it?

"No, no, this is really CBS," the producer says. "And we think this is a subject that needs to be discussed."

It does? Why? If it weren't for the Constitution, I don't think we'd have an election in 1992.

"Why do you say that?"

Well, gee, I think it has something to do with the war in the Persian Gulf. And the fact that if George Bush wins this war, he will be the most popular president we've had for decades, far more popular than Ronald Reagan ever was.

Yes, it is true not everybody supports this war. And some point out that every million we spend blowing up bridges in Iraq is another million we can't spend building bridges in America.

And, yes, our economy is in terrible shape. People are scared, financial institutions are shaky and unemployment is rising. And if the Democrats can focus the 1992 election on domestic issues, they might defeat George Bush.

That, anyway, is the current Democratic fantasy. But to make the fantasy a reality, you have to imagine one of two things:

George Bush emerges victorious in the Persian Gulf and then faces American voters so angry at domestic conditions that they turn him out of office the way Winston Churchill was turned out of office in 1945.

But would the American people really be that ungrateful? And would they be that unemotional about a triumphant wartime president?

Which leaves the second scenario: While America's defeat in the gulf is currently unimaginable, we could be caught up in a slow, murderous ground war with heavy losses.

But how are the Democrats going to benefit from that? How are they going to persuade the American people to desert George Bush in midstream in favor of . . . whom?

What great Democratic warrior/statesman comes to mind as you examine the list of potential candidates?

And there is a list. An excellent list. It has been assembled by Terry Michael, executive director of the non-profit, non-partisan Washington Center for Politics and Journalism and the contributing political analysts of "The Hotline," which is a national wire service for political junkies.

And not only has Michael put together this list, but he is going to hTC let America vote on it in what he calls a nationwide "tele-caucus."

Starting at 12:01 a.m. EST Monday and running to midnight Feb. 18, ordinary citizens across America can call 1-900-896-CALL and vote for their favorite presidential candidate.

The Democratic list for 1992 includes: Mario Cuomo, Sam Nunn, Richard Gephardt, Albert Gore, Lloyd Bentsen, Doug Wilder, Bob Kerrey, Jesse Jackson, George Mitchell, Bill Clinton, Tom Harkin, Richard Celeste, Patricia Schroeder, Jay Rockefeller, Bill Bradley, Paul Simon, Lee Hamilton, John Silber, George McGovern, David Boren and Charles Robb.

The 1992 Republican list is much shorter: George Bush, Pat Buchanan, Pierre du Pont, Gordon Humphrey, David Duke, William Armstrong and Pat Robertson.

The likelihood of George Bush's being defeated in the 1992 Republican primaries is so remote, however, that the tele-caucus also includes a 1996 Republican list: Dan Quayle, Pete Wilson, Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm, James Baker, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, William Bennett, Colin Powell, Lamar Alexander, Elizabeth Dole, Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney and Tom Kean.

Of interest to certain political junkies is how well Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, does against Dan Quayle. If he really stomps Quayle in this imaginary 1996 race, could this help persuade George Bush to dump Quayle for Powell in 1992?

Who knows? you say. Who cares? you say.

Well, some people do. And thousands of them, Michael hopes, will call and vote. Each call costs 95 cents per minute, and voting will take about two or three minutes. But all the proceeds will support the Politics and Journalism Internship program for college journalism students, whose advisory board contains such journalistic and political luminaries as Jack Germond of The Evening Sun, Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, Helen Thomas of United Press International, Ron Brown, chairman of the Democratic Party, and Lee Atwater, general chairman of the Republican Party.

In one sense, a nationwide phone poll is pretty silly. But much of politics is pretty silly.

"Like any straw poll, you need to take the results with a boulder-size grain of salt," Michael says. "But the tele-caucus is designed for the hard-core political junkie, willing to spend 95 cents a minute to make himself heard -- exactly the kind of person who participates in party caucuses, which are insiders' games.

"Thus, it will give some early indication of who's hot and who's not, exactly one year before the real thing in Iowa."

In other words, like it or not, the 1992 presidential race is beginning.

And you thought war was hell.

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