Campaign 2000: The thrill is gone
WASHINGTON (AP) – Ho hum. From watching ”evil” being shot out of the sky, it’s back to swatting flies.
With John ”Luke Skywalker” McCain grounded, the sizzle seems gone from the presidential race. The spectacle of Republicans and Democrats eating their own is over. The record-busting voter turnouts are history.
”Nobody cares,” said election judge Clayton Hurst in Salt Lake City. He watched GOP primary voters trickle in at a pace of one every 20 minutes Friday as people in three Western states filed in light numbers to polling booths or caucuses. Hurst brought a book to kill time.
Melia Hadley, 29, an independent from Salt Lake City, looked over the ballot and decided not to vote. ”I was thrilled with McCain,” she said. ”He lit the fire in my belly about politics again.”
Republican Gov. George W. Bush and Democratic Vice President Al Gore haven’t been lighting many fires like that.
How quickly it all changed: from ”Star Wars” imagery and movie theater-type lineups to ”My Dinner with Andre,” – two guys talking, and please pass the wine.
McCain’s insurgent Republican candidacy brought hordes of previously apathetic citizens out to do what so many had never done before – vote for a Republican, or vote at all. He mobilized the people who liked him and those who wanted to stop him in his tracks.
Fascinating, lifelong Democrat Tom Gregg of Kansas City, Mo., concluded on Super Tuesday. ”The whole thing between Bush and McCain is fascinating.”
Now, the whole thing between two leaden candidates is somniferous.
At one downtown Salt Lake City precinct, eight voters showed up in six hours.
Still, officials tending the two-party primaries Friday in Utah and Colorado, as well as GOP caucuses and a straw poll in Wyoming, put on a brave face.
”It’ll be worth as much as it was last time,” offered Brian Lovett, chairman of Laramie County Republicans in Wyoming. ”Alan Keyes hasn’t dropped out yet.”
In Utah, election judge Dixie Sloan said turnout was ”very poor” – perhaps 10 percent of normal in the early going.
”The voice of the West will be heard,” Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a backer of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, said optimistically as he cast his ballot, leaving it unclear who’s listening.
In Colorado, officials hoped they could exceed the 10 percent turnout registered in 1996, but knew it would be a struggle.
Although Bill Bradley stirred up some excitement of his own in taking on fellow Democrat Al Gore, an analysis of voter participation credits McCain with getting Americans out to vote in large numbers.
”The story of this primary season was McCain,” says Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.
Gans’ study found Republican turnout hit record highs in 13 of 18 states that voted through Super Tuesday while Democratic turnout was the second lowest in 40 years.
Republican participation overall was the highest it’s been since another Arizona maverick, Sen. Barry Goldwater, ran and won in 1964.
Whether he was winning or losing, McCain put on a show.
He routed Bush in New Hampshire and won Michigan thanks to independents and Democrats. He went down hotheaded in South Carolina and Virginia, at one point attacking ”evil” in the leadership of the religious right.
When Tuesday’s series of primaries and caucuses was over, his lasers were spent.
Too bad, Dana Hadley, assistant town administrator in Peterborough, N.H., thought Friday.
”He did generate a lot of excitement,” Hadley said. Now, ”it’s kind of a done deal.”
McCain liked to talk about how he got 40 people to come out in Peterborough last summer, when he handed out free ice cream, and how 400 showed up for him there in December, with no freebies.
Two days before the New Hampshire primary, about 1,500 jammed Peterborough’s town center to see him, spilling out into the streets, in a community of 6,000. About 70 percent of the town’s eligible voters cast ballots on primary day, overwhelmingly for McCain.
”We got a lot of attention from him,” Hadley said. ”When you’re nurtured, you respond.”