- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

George W. Bush is running 10 points ahead of Al Gore in Michigan's pivotal Macomb County where its working-class, independent swing voters are considered crucial to carrying the state.

The EPIC/ MRA poll of the 10th Congressional District home of the Reagan Democrats who swept Presidents Reagan and Bush to landslide victories in the 1980s shows George W. Bush winning 14 percent of the Democratic vote.

The Texas governor was getting 91 percent support from Republicans while the vice president was drawing only 78 percent of the Democratic voters in the renowned bellwether district.

Especially significant was that the survey found that Mr. Gore was losing 16 percent of Democratic women to Mr. Bush reflecting the Republican candidate's rising support among women in recent national polls.

Overall, women were supporting Mr. Bush by 48 percent to 41 percent in the district.

"Bill Clinton never lost more than 12 percent of any Democratic group here. Any time you lose 12 percent or more of your political base, you lose," said independent pollster Ed Sarpolus, who conducted the survey.

"The results show that Al Gore has not solidified his base and that spells real problems for Gore going into the general election," said Steve Mitchell, a Republican pollster in Michigan.

However, the presidential voter survey showed that the two candidates were still locked in a statistical dead heat in this key Midwest industrial state where 18 electoral votes are at stake.

Statewide, an earlier survey found Mr. Bush holding a 43 percent to 42 percent edge over Mr. Gore.

Macomb County, located just outside of Detroit in the heart of the nation's automotive heartland, has become more affluent over the years as incomes have risen among autoworkers and other industrial employees. But Democrats still outnumber Republicans by 42 percent to 38 percent in the 10th District, where House Democratic Whip David E. Bonior is in his 12th term and headed toward another easy re-election.

The poll showed Mr. Bonior getting 58 percent support in his bid for a 13th term.

Still, the latest district polling data showed that Mr. Bush was not only cutting deeply into traditionally Democratic territory, but that Mr. Gore was having increasing trouble with his party's base.

A significant finding showed Mr. Bush doing much better among independent women, who tend to vote Democratic and who went heavily for Mr. Clinton in the '90s. Mr. Bush was getting 39 percent of their support vs. 49 percent for Mr. Gore.

"Part of Gore's problem has to do with the Clinton factor and the issues of family values, morals and character" fueled by the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to Mr. Clinton's impeachment, Mr. Sarpolus said. "Gore has yet to define himself separate from Clinton.

The survey also showed Mr. Bush was doing especially well among Catholic voters, beating Mr. Gore among this group by 53 percent to 37 percent.

"That number is huge because a lot of independent voters here are Catholic voters," said John Caron, Republican chairman for the 10th District.

"The district has kind of gone back to its roots, voting Republican for the top of the ticket for the first time since 1992," Mr. Caron said. "If Bush's message is winning independents in Macomb, he's going to win the independents of the state and they are the swing voters who will decide this election."

A further sign of Mr. Gore's weakness elsewhere in the state was also picked up by the poll in neighboring western Wayne County, which is substantially more Democratic than Macomb but where the race is a dead heat.

"Gore ought to be doing better in western Wayne because Bill Clinton ran up big numbers there. It's a heavily blue-collar area but Bush is holding his own," Mr. Mitchell said. The EPIC/MRA poll showed Mr. Gore barely edging Mr. Bush in the county by 44 percent to 43 percent.

But Democratic officials in the state expressed confidence yesterday that Mr. Gore's numbers would begin turning up once voters began focusing on the election.

"Everybody's apathetic here. They're interested in getting school over with, going on summer vacations. They're not thinking about the election," said Leo Lalonde, a longtime Democratic activist and former party chairman of Macomb County.

"The election is six months away. It's early in the campaign. Al Gore has to keep attacking Bush. He's on the right track," Mr. Lalonde said.

But Mr. Lalonde worries that the economic expansion of the past decade may be moving too many of his party's members into the Republican column.

"Macomb County has been going more Republican over the last 10 years or more. The voters are getting more affluent. It was inevitable," Mr. Lalonde said.

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