- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

George W. Bush has surged to a seven-point lead in the Gallup Poll, and his advantage in three other major tracking surveys suggest that credibility, trust and ideology have emerged as the crucial issues in the presidential race, now entering the home stretch.
One of the new polls shows Al Gore as perceived as left-of-center by enough voters to make it a problem for him going into the second debate Wednesday night.
"We've got the wind at our backs," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday, laying out the governor's light schedule. "We like the way this is shaping up."
Although the Texas governor still trails the vice president on several issues important to likely voters, the voters polled say they regard Mr. Bush as more in tune with their basic view of government, and trust him more to mean what he says. They rate his opponent as the better speaker and more knowledgeable about policy details.
The most intriguing finding came in the latest Time-CNN poll, which found that, by a 13-point margin, voters now choose Mr. Bush over Mr. Gore as the candidate who is "honest and trustworthy enough to be president."
The poll found 67 percent saying Mr. Bush is trustworthy enough to be president, compared with 54 percent who say Mr. Gore is.
These same voters, however, say Mr. Gore would "do a better job" on Medicare, prescription drugs, Social Security, abortion, the economy, education and world affairs. Only on defense, taxes and oil prices do they say Mr. Bush would perform better.
The Time-CNN findings suggest that voters have begun to distrust Mr. Gore's honesty, apparently based on his reminding them in Tuesday's debate of his longtime penchant for exaggerating his role in the nation's affairs.
Mr. Bush's campaign, which had already identified trust as Mr. Gore's Achilles heel, has begun a 19-state TV ad campaign in which Mr. Bush mentions the word "trust" six times in 60 seconds.
Campaign aides for both sides wrangled yesterday on the Sunday talk shows as a three-day Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll of 725 voters shows Mr. Bush ahead, 48 percent to 41 percent. The poll was taken Wednesday through Friday, after the first presidential debate.
This is the largest Bush lead in the Gallup poll since the Republican convention in August.
"He has never had this big an advantage over Gore since the tracking poll began on Labor Day," says CNN polling director Keating Holland.
The character issue, which had helped Mr. Bush to a large lead going into the Republican convention in August, is re-emerging. The latest Time-CNN poll, for example, showed that 52 percent of voters said Mr. Gore "changes his mind too often on important issues just to win votes." Only 34 percent thought that was true about Mr. Bush.
In the most extensive national tracking poll, Mr. Bush continues to lead by four percentage points, slightly beyond the poll's two-point plus or minus error margin.
In that Portrait of America survey, which samples 2,250 likely voters over a three-day period, Mr. Bush has led with 45 percent to 41 percent since Wednesday. The poll, by Scott Rasmussen, is believed to be less volatile than other polls because it is by far the largest tracking poll.
The next largest survey, the four-day Battleground 2000 poll of 1,000 likely voters completed Thursday, shows Mr. Bush leading by 43 percent to 41 percent, within the 3.1 point error margin.
The three-day Time-CNN poll of 636 likely voters, completed two days before the latest Gallup findings, also has Mr. Bush up by two percentage points. Mr. Gore was leading 44 percent to 42 percent in a daily tracking poll taken by Reuters and cable news network MSNBC, and that survey shows Mr. Bush had trimmed the lead from six points a week ago. A three-day Newsweek survey of 804 likely voters had Mr. Gore ahead by one percentage point.
Mr. Rasmussen said that the only "major, consistent shift" in voter attitudes so far in his national poll, which was completed a day before the Gallup poll, has been an eight-point increase in voters who identify Mr. Gore as a liberal.
"The same trend was identified in our first three statewide surveys conducted after the debates in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Florida," he said. "But it's too early to tell whether this will continue."
The liberal-conservative divide, which had great potency in the 1970s and 1980s, may still have impact, provided it is used subtly as part of an issues comparison, given the more centrist and compassionate bent of female swing voters and their dislike of "negative" campaigning, Bush strategists have long believed.
Mr. Bush's father trounced his 1988 Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, by tagging him as an "ACLU liberal" on issues like crime and gun rights. The younger Bush, however, has mostly avoided pinning the "liberal" label on his opponent, leaving Mr. Gore to hang it on himself in the debate on issues, Mr. Rasmussen said.
Time-CNN's sample also found Mr. Bush more likeable by seven points, more believable by two points and more polite by one point.
Going into the Democratic convention, Mr. Gore badly trailed Mr. Bush in likeability but rapidly caught up with and then pulled slightly ahead in his favorable rating, even as President Clinton's personal approval rating sank to new lows among likely voters.
On the big government vs. small government philosophical question which candidate "shares your view on the size of government?" 53 percent said Mr. Bush does and 43 percent said Mr. Gore in the Time-CNN poll last week.
And by 56 percent to 36 percent, voters said they thought Mr. Gore would increase the size of government, which is the point Mr. Bush, his surrogates and his ad campaign have been attempting to drive home.

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