- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

Some Republican commentators are sounding like Cassandras, not just because of Al Gore's post-convention catch-up but because of a poll in Pennsylvania, which George W. Bush considers a must-win state.

The poll, featured in National Journal's "Hotline," showed Mr. Gore up by an astounding 14 points among likely voters in a four-way matchup and getting 24 percent of the Republican vote.

The Aug. 27-29 poll that was so disheartening to many Republican officials and operatives who read the Hotline religiously was conducted by Decision Forecasting for WPXI-TV and KQV Radio, surveyed 890 likely voters and had an error margin of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

More consoling for Republican hand-wringers and more realistic to some analysts is a later poll that went largely unreported and has Mr. Gore up by only 5 points. That Aug. 30 Portrait of America poll by Scott Rasmussen surveyed 485 likely Pennsylvania voters, with an error margin of 4 percent.

In the Rasmussen poll, incumbent Republican Sen. Rick Santorum leads his Democratic challenger, Rep. Ron Klink, by seven points 47 percent to 40 percent.

Republican internal polling early last week showed Mr. Bush four points down, a Republican official claimed privately.

In popular votes, most of the latest national polls show the contest dead even, within the error margin. In the Electoral College, however, most tallies show Mr. Bush ahead, but short of the 270 votes to win.

Pennsylvania, with 23 of those electoral votes, is one of a handful of must-win states for Mr. Bush. Independent analysts and most Republican state politicians say he shouldn't be trailing by double digits at this point.

"I'm doubtful about any poll showing Bush behind by 13 or 14 points in a state that is so heavily Republican," said Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine.

Bob Shuster, Harrisburg attorney, Republican activist and son of Rep. Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, notes Mr. Bush's advantages: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a close friend of Mr. Bush's, is a Republican. So are the state attorney general, state treasurer and both U.S. senators. What's more, Republicans enjoy majorities in the state Senate and House.

Pennsylvania has a big population of hunters and gun enthusiasts, Mr. Shuster said. Mr. Bush opposes what Mr. Gore backs: more gun control and registration that, gun-rights advocates claim, ultimately would lead to confiscation such as what has occurred in Australia and Britain.

Republicans acknowledge that more women have moved to support Mr. Gore in recent weeks, and the advantage Mr. Bush enjoys with male voters, though large, is less than the advantage Mr. Gore has with women voters, for the moment, at least.

Mr. Ridge is a pro-choice Catholic and urged his party to take the strongly pro-life plank out of the national platform. Mr. Bush, however, made sure that did not happen at the Republican convention.

In separate interviews yesterday, Ridge Chief of Staff Mark Hollman and Mr. Shuster doubted the abortion issue would account for a double-digit poll deficit for Mr. Bush. "Our former Democratic governor, [the late] Bob Casey, was pro-life," Mr. Shuster said.

Mr. Hollman acknowledged that the Bush support is "soft" among pro-choice suburban Republican women in the state. But he believes Mr. Bush can win them over on other issues such as his education plan and his prescription drug plan, which Mr. Hollman says would go into effect three years earlier than Mr. Gore's plan.

"Pennsylvania is home to 34,000 people employed in the pharmaceuticals industry, second only to New Jersey," he noted.

Republicans argue that the Bush proposal would rely more on free-market competition to make name-brand, rather than generic drugs, available to older Americans and would protect jobs in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Republicans in the state said Mr. Gore can win if he mobilizes the labor-union vote, but they also said that in parts of the state Democrats tend to be more conservative than suburban Republican women around Philadelphia. Mr. Hollman noted that Mr. Bush won the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police in Pennsylvania and nationally last week.

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