- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

Al Gore's top campaign officials yesterday insisted they are still confident about his chances to win the presidency, despite his loss of a double-digit lead in the polls with just 40 days to go in the contest.
"I would still describe the mood as buoyant," a senior Gore adviser said. "Six weeks ago, if you'd said we'd be even going into the first debate, we'd have done a handspring, considering where we were going into our convention."
The campaign's euphoria comes despite new polls that show Mr. Gore has lost the 17-point lead and then some he enjoyed in the polls just weeks ago. Mr. Bush now leads Mr. Gore 48 percent to 42 percent, according to a poll the Los Angeles Times released yesterday.
In the nightly CNN-Gallup-USA Today tracking poll conducted Sept. 23 to Sept. 25, the Texas governor leads 46 percent to 44 percent.
Gore officials yesterday sought to explain Mr. Bush's surge in the polls and declared that while their opponent may now have the lead in the popular vote, the vice president leads in the Electoral College race.
"At this point, I think we feel that Bush is maybe solidifying his lead in some of the states where he's had a lead, but we still have a lead in the states that still give us an electoral edge," the aide said.
Mr. Gore said he is unconcerned about the new polls while talking to reporters last night on Air Force Two.
"I don't think polls matter very much," he said. "You may have heard me say that before. But at least you've heard me say it whether they show it tight or me ahead or him ahead, whatever. I mean I just don't think they mean very much."
Mr. Gore said Mr. Bush's renewed focus on the vice president's character means "his determination to talk about the issues didn't last very long."
Mr. Bush took the lead in national polls this week as a series of gaffes knocked Mr. Gore off stride.
The Republican capitalized on Mr. Gore's claims that his mother-in-law paid more money for an arthritis medication than the same medicine cost for Mr. Gore's dog. Gore aides later acknowledged that the story was made up using a congressional report listing costs of medicines.
Also last week, Mr. Gore and running mate Joseph I. Lieberman took considerable heat for collecting millions of dollars from the Hollywood elite after excoriating the industry for targeting violent content to children.
At that Beverly Hills, Calif., gathering, Larry David, executive producer of "Seinfeld," said: "Like Bush, I, too, found Christ in my 40s. He came into my room one night, and I said: 'What, no call? You just pop in?' "
Religious leaders roundly criticized Mr. Lieberman, who later said he found the joke offensive, but amusing.
In addition, there were revelations in White House e-mail finally turned over to investigators that Mr. Gore knew an event at a Buddhist temple in California was a fund-raiser, a fact he has long disputed; his flip-flop on the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; and a claim to labor leaders that his mother used to sing him to sleep with a union song which turned out not to have been written until he was 27.
Mr. Gore said he was joking, not exaggerating.
Bush campaign officials, however, see no joking matter.
"We've regained momentum," spokeswoman Karen Hughes said. "The afterglow of the Democratic convention is gone, and voters were reminded of the Al Gore they thought they knew."
Mr. Bush yesterday wrapped up a trip to California his ninth since the primaries amid renewed optimism that he has a chance in a state of lost Republican presidential causes.
Jerry Parsky, the Bush campaign chairman in California, said polling shows the gap about five to seven percentage points and narrowing.
"Our internal polls show we're making strong progress, and national trends will be reflected in California. That's a margin that can easily be made up in a six-week race. We plan to compete to win here. I know it surprises a lot of people."
Mr. Bush said the same on an appearance on "Larry King Live."
"I'm going to win California. I am. I am. Please don't fall out of your chair. I've got a huge base of support in the Silicon Valley… . I've got a good chance amongst the Hispanic voter here in California. My job is going to be to find those Republicans that were strong Republicans up until 1992, that [Ross] Perot peeled off from us, and get them back in the party.
"I think I can do so by being a positive, optimistic, forward-looking candidate," Mr. Bush said.
Toward that goal, the Bush campaign last week started an e-mail blitz on the Internet aimed at rallying Republicans in California as well as nationwide. The plan, called "Project E-Champion," is akin to a Bush news service in which voters are kept apprised of campaign events and other developments via e-mail. The effort is being coordinated with the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Gore, campaigning in Iowa, yesterday sought for a third day in a row to connect Mr. Bush with Newt Gingrich. He repeated his contention that Mr. Bush supported an effort by the former House speaker to drain $270 billion from Medicare in a cost-cutting, as he touted his own program as offering seniors choices.
In fact, Mr. Gingrich wanted to slow the projected increase in Medicare costs. The Clinton-Gore administration in 1997 signed into law Mr. Gingrich's scaled-down proposal to cut $225 billion from Medicare growth over seven years.
Mr. Bush has proposed giving insurance companies an incentive to offer coverage to low-income seniors, arguing they are the ones who need help most.
"It appears Al Gore is feeling the heat in trying to explain his Medicare plan forcing seniors into a government HMO," said Bush aide Dan Bartlett.
In an indication of the race's tightness, Mr. Gore pushed his prescription drug plan in Iowa, a state with only seven electoral votes. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack joined Mr. Gore and noted that prescription drugs are critical in a state with the nation's fastest-growing population of people age 85 or older.
Mr. Gore yesterday also accepted a proposal by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, to ban largely unregulated soft money for the rest of the 2000 election, provided Mr. Bush and running mate Richard B. Cheney agree.
On Saturday, Mr. Gore heads to Florida, a key battleground, for a weekend of debate preparation before his first faceoff with Mr. Bush Tuesday in Boston. Mr. Bush will hole up over the weekend in Texas for his own preparation.
"We've always thought that the debates would be a huge part of the way the election comes out. That's how it should be," the Gore adviser said.
"We feel very confident going in that our guy is going to do a great job, the polls will reflect that and the vote will reflect that."
Andrew Cain, traveling with Al Gore, reported from Des Moines, Iowa, and aboard Air Force Two; Dave Boyer, traveling with George W. Bush, reported from Los Angeles.

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