In 2000, the United States presidential election was one of the closest and most controversial presidential elections in history. A month of recounts and court challenges followed, culminating in the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore. Following the court’s 5-4 decision, George W. Bush was declared the winner over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes in the state of Florida. Domestic issues as opposed to foreign policy dominated the campaign. Key issues were prescription drug prices, campaign finance reform, Social Security, and education. Each candidate claimed their economic plan would reduce the deficit. Bush parodied himself as a “compassionate conservative.” The Bush campaign did not make an issue over the sex scandal and impeachment of Bill Clinton’s Presidency less then two years ago. Gore refused to allow Clinton to campaign during the 2000 presidential election, and did not himself campaign on the Administration’s record of peace and prosperity. Which, in turn, disappointed Democrats by his lackluster performance.
The contest for the Republican nomination came down to two men: Texas Governor George W. Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain, an ex-POW in North Vietnam. Most Republican leaders endorsed Bush, who was popular with
social conservatives. Despite early victories for McCain in the New Hampshire and Michigan primaries, Bush went on to win South Carolina and 9 out of 13 super Tuesday states. McCain dropped out in March after a bitter
Incumbent Vice President Al Gore faced a challenge from former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. Bradly ran to left of Gore on universal health care, gun control, and campaign finance reform. Gore eventually trumped Bradly, winning all 50 primary states.
As a Vice President for eight years to a popular President during a time when the economy was still believed to be doing well, Gore appeared to have some strong starting advantages. Indeed, he easily won the Democratic primary. But due to Clinton’s scandal and impeachment in 1998, Gore sought to distance himself from the sitting President. Clinton, for his part, did little to help Gore. Indeed, when Clinton gave his big speech where he was supposed to pass the baton to Gore, he could never quite do so – instead talking about his own accomplishments and saying little more than ‘and Al Gore was there too’. During the campaign political pundits stressed the need of Gore to show that he was the ‘alpha dog’, but he never quite achieved that breakthrough and it would ‘dog’ him throughout his campaign. Gore tried to find a balance between adopting the economy and yet steering clear of Clinton’s moral failings, but could never quite find the right mix. He was also hampered by the public perception that the economy under Clinton was due more to good fortune than any Clinton initiatives. With Republicans controlling Congress for the last 6 years of Clinton’s terms, there was a view that Clinton’s role was one of not doing anything to stop the expansion more than doing something to cause it.
Bush also came out of the Republican primary relatively unscathed, and had a ‘pedigree’ of being the son of a previous President and a strong record as governor of Texas and being well liked by the Latino populace, a group that Republicans had struggled to vote their way. The press began to attack Bush and his speaking style where he had a tendency to sometimes mispronounce or garble words.