A Subway Series

When I young and living in Madison, New Jersey, we would listen in the autumn to the World Series, usually between the awesome New York Yankees and the hapless Brooklyn Dodgers (sometimes the New York Giants made it in). This competition was termed the “Subway Series,” indicating that one could see all the action by traveling to stadia via the subways in the Bronx or Brooklyn. One did not need a car to see the World Series.

Now that has all changed, as baseball became more national in scope and more competitive. But we are facing another subway series: the presidential race between the Democrat Hillary Clinton and the Republican Rudy Giuliani. She is the junior senator from that state; he, the former New York mayor, is best known for his leadership during the months following 9-11. The campaign will take on some of the characteristics of New York City politics: personal, hardball, edgy, ethnic. But that race, if it occurs, will be less liberal in terms of policy proposals than one would expect.

Giuliani has the more difficult task since the Republican base has a large cohort of Christian fundamentalists who oppose abortion, stem cell research and gay unions — and it also has rightwing figures who support unlimited gun ownership and a tougher stand against Communist China and free trade. Rudy has moved to the right as much as he can in an era of “returning to the video tape” which records his past liberal positions. No use denying them, they are in network libraries. There are tapes of his contentious radio shows wherein those whose opinions differed from his were found to be obvious idiots who, by his grace alone, were allowed to live in one of the five boroughs.

Neither does Hillary fit the paragon of liberal virtue; she is more measured than the left wing of the party wishes. This is especially apparent in her stubborn refusal to apologize for voting for Bush’s war. She cites the intelligence estimates and the president’s later deviation from what she thought he would do. Still, Hillary is obviously tied to her husband’s use of military power in the world. She is almost jumping over the primaries and the general election to the awesome problems of being president. Whether that forward looking perspective will be helpful to her is very unclear.

In a Hillary-Rudy contest, the state of New Jersey is clearly up for grabs. In the past, it has been assumed that New Jersey has simply become a blue state, a Democratic stronghold especially for the party and its national candidates. It is a small, densely packed, high income, high education state with large pockets of urban squalor — a ready made combination for liberal sentiments. But Rudy is the “nation’s mayor,” and 9-11 had a powerful impact on this state. With its seaports, its bridges, it railroads, its links to New York City, it is highly vulnerable to terrorism. And its military bases, such as Fort Dix, have already been threatened by these psychopaths. Rudy’s trump card is national security, and New Jerseyans are concerned about such threats.

In the 1960 campaign, Senator John F. Kennedy named Congressman Frank Thompson to head up a national effort to increase the voter turnout. The idea was that an increase in the gross number of votes would help Democrats, and it probably did in that very close race. In 1976, Reverend Jesse Jackson’s candidacy led to a large number of African-American voters registering to vote, which helped Jimmy Carter win the presidency in another close race.

The New Jersey election is likely to be determined by voter turnout. Over half of those eligible to vote do not vote in this state. Usually they will tell pollsters that it really doesn’t matter whom they vote for. Surely this is not the case in 2008. The Democrats in the state have historically relied on labor unions to turn out the vote, now they have to create new strategies to mobilize the young, the African-Americans, the Hispanic voters.

The GOP is not as effective in getting allies to recruit new voters, but they surely have made extensive use of phone banks. Several of their Congressman, especially Mike Ferguson and Jim Saxon, are on the Democrats’ hit list, so the election will have other consequences besides choosing a president.

Citizens are more likely to vote, more likely to be become animated, when they identify with the issues that are important to them: the war, universal medical coverage, immigration, education. Also, the character of the candidates is important: whom do you trust to lead this nation in a violent hostile world? The Greeks said it best, character is fate. Enthusiasm for public policy issues compels voters to make judgments on the candidates outside of their respective affiliations; such enthusiasm therefore affects how one votes, that is, if one votes at all.

Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.

A Subway Series