- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2000

New polling conducted for House Republicans shows they have improved among women and independents and reveals that Sen. John McCain is a more popular running mate than retired Gen. Colin Powell for Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

House Republicans have gained 14 points among women and 19 points among independent voters from January 1999, according to a survey of 1,000 voters conducted last month by Fabrizio McLaughlin & Associates of Alexandria, Va.

Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said the Republican gains are due to the party's emphasis on education and family issues. On education, for example, the poll shows Republicans gaining 20 points on Democrats in the past 15 months.

"We've closed the gap on the issues that matter in this election," Mr. Wilkinson said.

The GOP also has improved 19 points among married women with children and even gained 11 points among blacks, although the party still trails Democrats in the latter group by a 6-to-1 margin.

The generic poll shows that House Republicans are slightly ahead of Democrats, 43 percent to 42 percent, with 15 percent undecided. The same poll had Republicans with a five-point lead in February; Democrats led 46 percent to 39 percent in January 1999.

Republicans have an 11-seat majority in the House.

An NRCC source also confirmed yesterday that Mr. Bush has agreed to campaign for House Republican candidates in so-called "Tier One" congressional districts races in which the GOP believes it has the best chance of gaining seats. Mr. Bush will visit Washington to meet with NRCC officials by the end of this month.

The survey indicates that Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, would be a powerful running mate for Mr. Bush. A Bush-McCain ticket beat a hypothetical Democratic team of Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, 53 percent to 36 percent. A Bush-Powell ticket against the same opponents won 50 percent to 38 percent.

Mr. McCain, who attracted large numbers of independent voters in his failed bid to win the Republican presidential nomination, has said repeatedly that he is not interested in the vice presidency. He has begun to campaign for House Republican candidates in battleground districts.

The NRCC poll also shows Mr. McCain's value to House Republican candidates. Of the undecided voters in congressional elections in the survey, 56 percent were independents.

"A very, very large case is being built that McCain on the [presidential] ticket means a pretty big seat gain for House Republicans," said a Republican strategist. "These [independents] are the same people McCain was getting to vote."

Said Jim McLaughlin, president of the polling firm, "The number one issue right now is honesty and character. It helps Republicans right now. Their base is motivated … to get rid of Clinton-Gore."

In the presidential election, the poll indicated that voters rate character as much more important than reforming politics and the federal government, 73 percent to 17 percent. Even people who voted for Mr. McCain, who made campaign finance reform his signature issue, said they cared more about character, 67 percent to 20 percent.

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