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Beyond primaries, a look at the campaign's broader significance

The 2000 presidential election is dominating the media, and political commentator Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. is in the thick of it.

Ornstein, who will speak in the Whig Senate Chamber today at 4:30 p.m., serves as an election analyst for CBS News, writes regularly for USA Today and has worked closely with Republican candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Democratic candidate Vice President Al Gore, he said in an interview yesterday.

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In today's speech, Ornstein will discuss broader implications of the election rather than discuss the individual candidates. "It's a very interesting election because it is the first time in 50 years that we have everything up for grabs," Ornstein said, noting that there is no incumbent running and neither party has decisive control of the Senate.

Ornstein said he believes Americans have more confidence in the economy and their futures then in past election years. "The people have the desire for change [as a result of the election], but they also want to keep the good times rolling," he said.

Ornstein also mentioned the idea of a "permanent campaign" in evaluating a candidate's future performance in office. He described such a campaign as "not just the current horse race, but how [a candidate] would actually do if elected, how they could govern."

Ornstein said he does not feel particularly loyal to any one political party. "I've tried to avoid all that. I try not to have a partisan or ideological spin to what I say," he said, admitting that achieving such a goal is not easy because most modern political commentary is set up as a "crossfire" between opposing groups.

Political versatility

Because of his political versatility, Ornstein has had the opportunity to work closely with politicians from both parties, such as McCain and Gore. During the past five years, Ornstein has been working with McCain to influence some of the presidential candidate's political views, especially in the area of campaign finance reform, for which Ornstein leads a coalition of scholars at AEI.

Ornstein has worked with Gore as the co-chair of a presidential advisory commission titled "Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters." In the advent of multi-channel television, the commission is working to provide free airtime for campaigns, an effort Ornstein describes as "an uphill battle."

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Though he takes politics very seriously, a sense of humor also plays an important role in Ornstein's life. He has appeared on television several times emphasizing the lighter side of politics, working as a commentator and pollster for Comedy Central Television.

Ornstein cited as an example of his interest in political levity Al Franken's latest book "Why Not Me?" about Franken's fictional run for president with Ornstein as his campaign manager and eventual chief of staff. "It profiles the first all-Jewish presidency," he said, adding that he works with Franken at Comedy Central.

Ornstein is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and received his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. His son Matthew is a sophomore at the University.

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