For Gore or Bush, the agony of ‘what ifs’ awaits

By Walter Mears The Associated Press
Saturday November 11, 2000

WASHINGTON — For Al Gore or George W. Bush, the agony of “what ifs,” of second-guessers and hindsight await the loser in the presidential election so narrow that any of dozens of campaign calculations could have been the one that cost the White House. 

So it was for Richard M. Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey after their close defeats. 

If, for example, Nixon hadn’t worn himself out keeping an unwise pledge to campaign in all 50 states in 1960, while John F. Kennedy went where the electoral votes were. It was a mistake Nixon did not repeat when he won eight years later. 

And for Humphrey, if he had found a way as vice president to declare independence from President Johnson in 1968 to avoid being overridden when he suggested he might part, even slightly, with the administration’s war policy in Vietnam. 

Both men reflected on their defeats in their memoirs, in words that etched the pain of losing so narrowly. 

With the 2000 election hanging on a recount of the frail thread of votes by which Bush leads in Florida, where 25 electoral votes will elect a president, and with Gore narrowly leading in the national popular vote, the second guessing isn’t awaiting the outcome. 

Bush’s spokeswoman Karen Hughes, asked Wednesday whether he now wishes he had spent more time campaigning in Florida, she said, “I’m sure there is plenty of time for that.” 

In Gore’s case, the chorus of television talkers was appraising why he lost early Wednesday, before their networks decided that maybe he hadn’t lost at all, that Florida was too close not to rescind the call they already had made for Bush. 

Nixon, who defeated Humphrey in 1968, recounted some of his own second guessing in his campaign diary of 1972 – an election he won by a landslide for the term he had to resign in Watergate. 

“If we had known then as much about how to campaign, etc., as we know now, we probably would have won in 1960,” he wrote. 

In his memoirs, Nixon recounted his version of the day after Kennedy beat him by about 0.2 percent of the popular vote, of being told of “massive vote frauds in Chicago and Texas.” 

“We had made a serious mistake in not having taken precautions against such a situation and it was too late now,” he wrote. He said a full recount could have taken up to half a year. “I could not subject the country to such a situation,” he said. 

Besides, what if he lost anyhow? “Charges of sore loser would follow me through history and remove any possibility of a further political career.” 

Nixon said he had underestimated the new power of television in the 1960 campaign, complained that the national press had been slanted against him, and said that “I should have anticipated what was coming” in Kennedy campaign hard ball, which he called dirty tricks. 

“I vowed that I would never again enter an election at a disadvantage by being vulnerable to them – or anyone – on  

the level of political tactics,”  

he wrote. 

He kept that vow. The dirty tricks of 1972 were the work of his people. 

That was Nixon’s landslide year. His close call was over Humphrey, by 0.7 percent of the vote, in 1968, making it Humphrey’s turn to reflect on what almost was. 

“We have come so far so fast,” Humphrey wrote of his election day musing in his memoir, “The Education of a Public Man.” 

“No, we aren’t,” he said he’d told himself. “Stop thinking that. I am so tired again.” 

And later that day: 

“Vietnam is a mess ... Wonder why Johnson shot me down when I said that troops would be withdrawn in 1969. Ruined my credibility. Made me look like a damn fool. ...” 

Later still. “I wonder if I should have blown the whistle on Anna Chennault and Nixon.” That was the allegation that Nixon knew his allies were telling the South Vietnamese to hold tough about peace talks until after the election because they’d be in better bargaining shape with a Republican president. 

Then the vote. “We’re losing. We’re losing. It’s gone.” 

The morning after. Conceding. “Congratulations, Dick. Mr. President. ... He’s gracious. That’s about it. To lose to Nixon. Ye Gods. ... 

“We could have won it. We should have won it... There are some who didn’t produce ... Got to hide the bitterness.” 



And this wrenching self appraisal. 

“What am I going to do? There isn’t anything I wanted to do. I wanted to be president.” 

Humphrey got past it, returning in 1970 to the Senate, where he served until his death in 1978. He campaigned, futilely, for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. 

After the unyielding intensity of a presidential campaign, the scars of the loser do not soon fade. And the scars never cut deeper than when the loss is so narrow as this one will be.