- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Key Democratic voter groups remain divided and unenthused about Vice President Al Gore's presidential candidacy, but there is still plenty of time to excite and unite the party behind him, Democratic strategists said yesterday.

Even black Americans, the Democratic Party's most faithful voter bloc, are less than enthusiastic about Mr. Gore, says a Democratic polling analyst.

"Are blacks excited about Gore? No," said David Bositis, chief pollster for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which polls and analyzes issues of special interest to black Americans.

But Mr. Bositis, like other Democratic advisers, says it is "too early to draw any conclusions" from polling numbers revealing Mr. Gore's weaknesses among key segments of his party, from union households to minorities.

"If you come back to me in September and these numbers are still there, I'd be happy to acknowledge to you that Gore has problems," he said.

"But, yes, Gore needs to do better than [he is doing now] in the fall" if he is to win, he said.

Amy Isaacs, national director of Americans for Democratic Action, says Mr. Gore has troubles among union voters, party liberals and other left-of-center activists.

"I'd say there are divisions. He needs to shore up his support," she said.

But "it is a little too early to be writing the obituary of this campaign," she said.

Nevertheless, one month before Mr. Gore is to be declared the Democratic Party's nominee at its national convention in Los Angeles, the vice president clearly has serious political problems with major parts of his party's base. Among them:

• Despite the formal endorsement of the AFL-CIO, both the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers are signaling that they may team up together in a "united front" to withhold their support for Mr. Gore. Recent polls show that nearly 40 percent of labor-union voters say they prefer Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumed Republican nominee, over Mr. Gore.

Mr. Gore is drawing far less than the 60 percent labor vote that most Democratic union officials say is needed to carry pivotal states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

• Hispanic voters, one of the Democrats' strongest minority blocs, are giving Mr. Bush more than one-third of their support, according to recent polls.

Mr. Gore's shrinking lead in California is attributed largely to Mr. Bush's growing support among Hispanics.

• Growing disgruntlement toward Mr. Gore from liberals and environmentalists has not dissipated and is feeding Ralph Nader's insurgent candidacy from the left.

Mr. Nader is drawing 6 percent of voters in the national polls as the Green Party candidate, and pollsters say virtually all of his support is coming out of Mr. Gore's numbers.

An independent poll released last week in Michigan showed Mr. Nader favored by 8 percent, cutting deeply into Mr. Gore's support and giving Mr. Bush a 12 percent lead in the state.

"[Mr. Nader] can certainly hurt Gore. I don't think ultimately he will," Mrs. Isaacs said. "I think more of it will swing back to Gore."

Mr. Bositis, one of the party's leading experts on black voting patterns, thinks that the bulk of the black vote will stick with Mr. Gore, but he says Mr. Bush could win up to 15 percent of that vote in November, a little higher than the 10 percent average that Republicans have won in the past.

"African-Americans are still solidly in Gore's camp. There will be a substantial organized effort to turn out the black vote in states where there is a consensus about where the election will be decided," he said.

Yet he agrees with Mrs. Isaacs that Mr. Gore continues to have troubles on his party's left wing, which thinks the vice president's campaign proposals have not been liberal enough.

"There is to some degree a dissatisfaction [among liberals] with Gore as a candidate. They'd like to see Gore be more forceful, more charismatic," he said.

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