The battle royale that every D.C. political wag had been hoping for is on: Adrian M. Fenty vs. Vincent Gray. It’s fairly obvious how challenger Gray is going to cast his candidacy: Youth vs. experience. Alienation vs. collaboration. Arrogance vs. avuncularity.
So how’s this thing going to play out for Hizzoner? LL has been searching for historical parallels Fenty might want to consult.
How about the 1996 presidential race?
Remember, Bob Dole vs. Bill Clinton?
Clinton, of course, was only two years removed from an epic political setback, when Republicans overtook both houses of Congress for the first time in decades. The race attracted a motley crew of Republican wannabes, with longtime Kansas senator Dole, 73, winning the nomination.
The campaign ended up being very much about Dole’s age and whether or not he was an “out of touch” Beltway insider after 26 years in the Senate, that whether, as a career legislator, he had the leadership chops to lead the country. The Clinton narrative became that a vote for Dole was a vote for failed policies of the past. Clinton, on the other hand could tout bipartisan votes on crime and welfare reform.
Clinton strolled into the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (where LL, incidentally, was on the floor as a fresh-faced delegation page), gave his speech about “building a bridge to the 21st Century,” and never looked back. He won the popular vote by 8.5 points.
So the task for Fenty is clear: Make the case that a vote for Gray is a vote for returning to the past. Make the case that Gray’s legislative obsession with process will obscure progress. Make the case that the change people voted for in 2006, when voters overwhelmingly preferred him to Linda Cropp, is not finished. And make the case that he’s still the best candidate to lead the city into the future.
Here’s why the analogy might not hold: Fenty, 39, for all his youth and vigor, is not blessed with the communicative gifts of a Bill Clinton. Fenty shakes plenty of hands, but he doesn’t leave the folks receiving them in the rapture that Clinton was known for. (And he’s not much of an orator to boot.) Gray, though up in years at 67, is a sight more sprightly than Dole was. And while Fenty has a strong record to run on, he will have a hard time claiming that he’s brought people together to move the city forward.
Gray, on the other hand, will try to make the case that he can unite disparate parts of the city around a message of hope and progress, kind of like a more recent presidential candidate.