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Loser's Lament

Gray Davis think's he's being challenged by a Republican conspiracy. The real problem is the Democrats' implosion.

12:00 AM, Aug 21, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
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CONSPIRACY THEORIES are the last refuge of losers. So it's not surprising that the fast-fading governor of California, Gray Davis, would trot out such a theory as he tries to avoid being tossed out of office. The recall vote on October 7, Davis said, "is part of an ongoing national effort to steal elections Republicans cannot win." This is baloney. Nonetheless the claim of a Republican conspiracy has become a Democratic mantra.

The alleged conspiracy has four episodes: the Clinton impeachment, the 2000 election, Texas reapportionment, and California. In each of these, Republicans are supposed to have turned to other means to overturn elections they'd lost. The implication is Republicans are seeking to thwart democracy and representative government.

That's not the case in Texas, though, a state that's become overwhelmingly Republican. Democrats don't like the new political reality and are seeking to prevent Texas from sending a representative (and thus Republican) House delegation to Washington. Texas got two additional House seats in the 2000 census, but Democrats blocked the legislature from passing a redistricting plan. A federal court stepped in, leaving largely in place the Democratic redistricting scheme from 1991. In the "Almanac of American Politics," Michael Barone called this plan the most clever gerrymander of the 1990s. Still, Republicans won the 2 new seats in 2002. But the Texas delegation remained Democratic, 17 to 15.

Now Republicans want to make the congressional delegation a reflection of majority Republican sentiment in the state (and then some). Does this amount to "trying to steal congressional seats," as Davis claimed? Far from it. By keeping elections in Texas from producing a fairer distribution of House seats, Democrats are in effect "stealing" seats. And they are using extra-legal means to do so. Democratic state legislators have fled the state to bar a vote on reapportionment.

Impeachment, had President Clinton been convicted, would have overturned the 1996 presidential election only in part. It wouldn't have installed Bob Dole, the Republican candidate, in the White House. Democrat Al Gore would have replaced Clinton and, running as an incumbent in 2000, probably would have defeated George W. Bush.

As for the 2000 election, Davis said "thousands of Americans" were deprived of the right to vote in Florida. Not true. Yes, the Supreme Court stopped the recount in three counties, but Democrats simply wanted the counting continued until enough questionable votes for Gore turned up. Media investigations have since concluded Gore would probably not have prevailed in a full and reasonable recount of the entire state of Florida in 2000.

In California, Davis insisted, Republicans are using the recall to seize an office they lost in 2002 when he was reelected. True, a number of Republicans are running to succeed Davis. But so are Democrats and a host of others. And the recall drive began with Ted Costa, a populist gadfly, and was carried out in public and in an entirely above board manner. If this is a conspiracy, it certainly isn't a secretive one.

Recall is provided for in the California constitution, but it's a very difficult process. Over the last 92 years, recall has never before succeeded in even getting on the ballot in a governor's case despite numerous attempts by Democrats to expel Republican governors. On October 7, there will be two questions--two elections really--on the same ballot, one deciding if Davis should be removed, the other on a replacement. This is highly democratic.

As luck would have it, the charge that Republicans are aiming to steal elections began to the make the rounds at the same time as a national survey by Mark Penn, Clinton's pollster. He discovered voter identification with Democrats is at its lowest since before the election of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Given this context, the conspiracy charge sounds like a loser's lament.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.