- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2000

George W. Bush leads Al Gore in enough states to give him 250 electoral votes, just 20 votes short of the number needed to win the presidency, a state-by-state survey by The Washington Times showed yesterday.

Seven months before voters go to the polls in November, nationwide surveys show the race has tightened significantly in the popular vote. Many experts predict it could be one of the closest elections in U.S. political history.

But a dramatically different picture emerges when the presidential contest is examined on the basis of who is ahead in the state-by-state races in the electoral count. The 538 electoral votes are apportioned among the states based on the size of their congressional delegations. It takes a minimum of 270 electoral votes to win the White House.

Mr. Bush is ahead in all of the western Plains states and most of the South, while Mr. Gore leads in the western coastal states and most of the Northeast, including New York and the New England states. Up for grabs are Pennsylvania, with its hefty 23 electoral votes, and most of the industrial Midwest, where big battleground states such as Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin likely will decide who will succeed Bill Clinton as president in 2001.

Based on independent state polls and, to some extent, each state's past voting history, Mr. Bush appears to be clearly ahead of Mr. Gore in 22 states that would give him 178 electoral votes. He also holds slight leads in five other states with 72 electoral votes, which would give him a total of 250.

The Times' survey showed that Mr. Bush was leading Mr. Gore in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

States leaning to Mr. Bush by narrower margins include Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri and North Carolina.

Mr. Gore, on the other hand, appears to have solid leads in eight states, plus the District of Columbia, with a combined total of 89 electoral votes. He is ahead in seven other states, including delegate-rich California, that would give him an additional 93 electoral votes. All told, that would give him a total of 182, or 88 short of the needed 270.

He is running well ahead of Mr. Bush in Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Other states leaning toward Mr. Gore include California, Delaware, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon and his home state of Tennessee, where he leads Mr. Bush by only 6 points in the latest Mason-Dixon poll.

Eight other states carrying a combined 106 electoral votes, including three of the biggest electoral prizes, are tossups at this point. They include Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.

Political analyst Rhodes Cook, who is tracking the electoral count on his election Web site, sees roughly the same regional breakdown between the two candidates.

"If you look at the electoral map, there is a Republican L that is the building block of Republican presidential victories in the last half of the century running down the western Plains states and then east across the South," Mr. Cook said.

"I think most of the South will go with Bush, and he should clean up in the Mountain and Plains states," he said. After allowing Mr. Gore the West Coast states and most of the Northeast, he sees the election being decided "by everything else in the Midwest's Frost Belt. That's the battleground."

"A generous count right now for Gore would be 175 electoral votes," he said. "If you give Bush all of the states that [former Senate Majority Leader Bob] Dole got in 1996, he starts out with 159 electoral votes."

Besides Mr. Bush's strength in Republican bastions in the West and South, The Times' state-by-state review showed how close the contest is at this point in three of the most critical battleground states in the Midwest, with 51 electoral votes at stake.

In Illinois, which President Clinton carried in 1996 with 54 percent of the vote, the latest polls show the two contenders merely 4 points apart, with Mr. Gore leading 47 percent to 43 percent, according to a Zogby poll.

In Michigan, which Mr. Clinton carried the last two elections, Mr. Bush leads by 5 points, 44 percent to 39 percent, in one poll. Other polls show the race there in a dead heat.

Wisconsin a must-win state for Mr. Gore that Democrats have carried in the last three presidential elections is rated a tossup, with both candidates running neck and neck in the polls.

One of the few battleground states in the South is Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor. Republicans have carried the state in four out of the last five presidential contests, but Gore strategists think that Mr. Bush will be vulnerable on the Social Security issue in a state with a large number of retirees.

Still, a recent Mason-Dixon poll shows Mr. Bush leading in Florida by 45 percent to 37 percent among registered voters.

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