- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Justice Department memorandums urging that Al Gore be investigated for his role in the Clinton administration's campaign-finance scandal may be hurting his presidential campaign, a new poll suggested yesterday.

The latest voter survey by independent pollster John Zogby showed Mr. Gore's support fell markedly in the past week. The decline followed a weeklong string of internal documents in which Justice Department lawyers and FBI officials said an independent prosecutor should be named to find out if Mr. Gore lied about his role in the 1996 fund-raising scandal.

Mr. Zogby does not directly attribute the sharp 5-point decline in the vice president's earlier polling numbers to the recently released memos, but he suggested they were a factor.

"The conclusion is inescapable. Any bad news on either side will change the numbers. Let's just say it was not a good week for Al Gore," Mr. Zogby said.

His latest poll numbers, released yesterday, showed Mr. Gore running behind Texas Gov. George W. Bush by 39 percent to 47 percent. Mr. Bush's larger 8-point lead represented a dramatic change from a week ago when a Zogby poll showed the two presidential candidates in a virtual dead heat.

The latest numbers also follow an embarrassing public complaint by a couple living on federal disability checks who accused Mr. Gore of being a "slumlord" because he had not fixed broken plumbing in the home they rent from him.

"These stories contribute to questions about who Al Gore really is. They fly in the face of the reformer message and the help-the-little-guy message that the Gore campaign has tried to adopt," said Ray Sullivan, spokesman for the Bush campaign.

The Bush campaign has had little if anything to say about the disclosures in the memorandums, but that did not stop Mr. Bush's surrogates from speaking out in his behalf yesterday.

Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, said Attorney General Janet Reno's refusal to name a special counsel to investigate Mr. Gore had all the earmarks of a cover-up.

"If it's not, it's a pretty good imitation of a cover-up," Mr. Thompson told The Washington Times.

"This was a concentrated effort by the Justice Department to keep the lid on this and make sure that the American people never found out what happened," he said.

"This sort of thing has got to be harmful as things come out. You've got to assume that it's going to have some effect sometime," he said of the public's reaction to the latest revelations in the memos.

Michigan Gov. John Engler, another Bush surrogate, said yesterday that the documents showed that "Al Gore is deep in this stuff, all the way back to the Buddhist Temple fund-raiser. The American people think that the ethics of this administration have been terrible."

But some pollsters said it was impossible to draw any connections between the recent release of the Justice Department documents and Mr. Gore's polls at this point.

"If we try to draw any inference on a week-to-week basis from the polls, we are just misleading ourselves and the public as well," said Andrew Kohut, chief pollster at the Pew Research Center.

"One of Gore's weaknesses is his personal trustworthiness. Some of it stems from his association with Clinton and some of it stems from the allegations being made against Gore" in the campaign-finance scandal, Mr. Kohut said.

The vice president's weakness in the polling data is reflected most strongly in his favorability rating, which asks people what kind of personal impression they have of the candidates.

Last month Mr. Kohut found Mr. Gore had a favorability rating of 50 percent, but an unfavorable score of 48 percent.

"It's pretty high. That's his problem," Mr. Kohut said.

Other Republican pollsters like Neil Newhouse maintained yesterday that "no one is paying attention to the campaign and won't until the conventions."

If the Justice Department memos have had an effect on Mr. Gore's campaign, it is only to "sidetrack Gore off his message," Mr. Newhouse said.

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