Republican Party during the second Clinton Administration
The Republican Party maintained its control of Congress throughout the second Clinton administration. In the 1996 election, it gained two additional Senate seats but lost seats in the House. Hopes for major gains in the 1998 mid-term elections were dashed when the public reacted against impeachment proceedings against Clinton. As a result, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, resigned from Congress. Bob Livingston of Louisiana was chosen to replace him, but news of an affair caused him to resign as well. The new Speaker, Dennis Hastert, served from 1999-2007. These events tarnished the image of the Republican leadership in Washington DC.
Early Presidential Maneuvering
Republican strategists eagerly awaited the 2000 election. They hoped to win the presidency, extend their control over Congress, and gain more state legislative seats to prepare for the critical 2001 redistricting.
Moderate Republicans began to coalesce behind Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 1999. Bush's campaign theme in his record-smashing 1998 re-election campaign, "compassionate conservatism," resonated with almost all categories of voters. Moderate Republicans who felt that Christian conservatives were too strong in the party convinced Gov. Bush to make his theme a national movement to help expand the party's base. Bush began a very successful fund raising campaign which netted $36 million in the first half of 1999 and drove most other moderate Republicans out of the field.
The Republican Party still had a large crop of contenders for the nomination. Conservative contenders included Gary Bauer, Dan Quayle, Pat Buchanan, and Alan Keyes. Four Republicans entered the race and appealed to independent Republicans. Elizabeth Dole was quite popular among Republican women, but many voters were concerned what role her husband Bob Dole would play if she were elected. Publisher Steve Forbes entered the race with name recognition and his key issue from 1996, the flat income tax. The third contender, Sen. John McCain, was a decorated veteran and a POW in Vietnam for six years. His issues were campaign finance reform and straight forward honesty. Former Gov. Lamar Alexander had been a viable candidate in 1996, but he was dogged throughout 1999 by a lack of funding.
The first test for the Republican field came in a straw poll in Ames IA on 8/21/1999. Each candidate offered incentives for voters to participate, including free country music concerts. Bush placed first with 31%, somewhat lower than his goal of 50%. Forbes, who spent the most heavily, came in second with 21%. Elizabeth Dole placed a respectable third but soon was forced out of the race by a lack of campaign contributions.
During the fall of 1999, the field narrowed again. Sen. McCain was outraged when Buchanan published a book in which he defended some policies of Adolf Hitler. McCain urged Buchanan to leave the Republican Party. Polls showed that Buchanan had a high degree of support; a Newsweek poll gave Bush 46%, Gore 38%, and Buchanan 8% in a three-way race. Buchanan recognized his futile race and decided to pursue the Reform Party nomination instead.
As the nation survived the threatened Y2K computer shutdown and wondered how to resolve the Elian Gonzalez situation in Florida, Gov. Bush plotted his campaign strategy. He saw his main rival as being Forbes, who was cutting into the social conservative bloc in Iowa. Forbes was the only Republican who was able to keep pace with Bush's spending there. Bush expected to brush off Forbes in Iowa, then defeat McCain in New Hampshire, thus having a free ride throughout the remaining primaries.
Iowa and New Hampshire
The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary served their traditional roles of winnowing the field. Iowa's caucus was held on 1/24/2000. Bush placed first with 41% of the delegates, followed by Forbes with 30% and Keyes with 12%. The remainder of the field was trapped in single digits.
The first surprise of the primary season came in New Hampshire. Sen. McCain had bypassed Iowa in order to concentrate his funds on NH, and the polls showed that he was closing the gap with the Texas Governor there. The primary took place on 2/1/2000. McCain won an unanticipated 49-30% victory over Bush. Forbes placed third with 13%, followed by Keyes with 6%. Forbes dropped out of the race following a defeat in Delaware, leaving only Bush, McCain, and Keyes in the field.
In the month following the New Hampshire primary, Bush and McCain took the campaign to DE, SC, AZ, MI, VA, and WA. Realizing that the voters sought reform of the national government, Bush created a new theme for his campaign, "A Reformer with Results." With most conservative contenders out of the race, Bush asked for their support while McCain defied them. This large voting bloc helped Bush narrowly win DE, SC, VA, and WA, leaving McCain only AZ and MI. During these four weeks, turnout in the Republican primaries doubled from 1996; only DE and AZ had lower turnouts in 2000. Turnout had increased from 353,000 in 1988 in these states to a record 3,597,000 in 2000; Bush and McCain each won 1.7 million votes while Keyes trailed with 145,000. Much of McCain's support came from independent voters who were allowed to participate in Republican primaries in several states. Many regular Republicans feared the independents would be responsible for nominating McCain but desert him in the fall.
Super Tuesday Primaries
Eleven states held primaries on 3/7/2000, choosing 654 of the 2,066 delegates to the National Convention. In addition, Republicans held a caucus in Minnesota, the first step in the selection of 34 additional delegates. With a record turnout, Bush won a 54-38% victory of the 9.1 million Republican votes, winning the key states of CA, NY, and OH. Bush's margins were dramatic: 56-32% in CA; 51-43% in NY; 58-37% in OH; 67-28% in GA, 58-35% in MO; and 56-36% in MD. McCain carried four New England states, winning the region by a 59-37% margin although Bush narrowly carried Maine. Keyes won a mere 4% of the nationwide vote that day but continued his campaign. Two days after the Super Tuesday primaries, McCain dropped out of contention.
Bush collected the delegates he needed in the "Stupid Tuesday" primaries in the week following Super Tuesday to pass the 50% mark. In these eight primaries, Bush won 80% of the vote to 13% for McCain and 5% for Keyes. Alan Keyes continued his quixotic campaign against Bush, always losing to Bush and placing third behind McCain when he appeared on the ballot.
Republican Primaries of 1996
Republican Primaries of 2004
Republican National Convention of 2000
Popular vote of 2000
Electoral Vote of 2000