- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

George W. Bush is holding his electoral lead across most of the West and the South, but Al Gore has edged ahead slightly in some Midwest battlegrounds, a state-by-state survey by The Washington Times showed yesterday.
As the two presidential rivals formally kicked off their general election campaigns in a burst of Labor Day weekend rallies and parades, national polls showed Mr. Gore's big post-convention bounce has faded and the race for the White House has turned into a dead heat.
A pre-Labor Day Gallup poll showed Mr. Bush barely edging out Mr. Gore by a microscopic one-point margin 46 percent to 45 percent. Other independent pollsters, political analysts and the GOP's internal tracking polls agreed with Gallup's finding.
The Times' election analysis showed Mr. Bush leading in two dozen states across most of the South, the Western plains and mountain states and parts of the Midwest, which would give him 257 electoral votes 13 votes short of what he needs to win.
"The electoral map for Bush looks like a large 'L', running from Montana and the Dakotas down to Texas and then across most of the South," pollster John Zogby said.
Mr. Gore, on the other hand, leads in about a dozen states, including parts of the Northeast and the two big mega-states of New York and California, which would give him 170 electoral votes 100 votes short of his White House goal.
Nine states, with a combined 111 electoral votes, remained toss-ups. They are Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
"I think we've got a very close race, reminiscent of the Kennedy-Nixon race of 1960," said Mr. Zogby. "The overall popular vote is tight and I think it's going to stay tight. Gore has got the Democrats to come back home."
But former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, a key Bush adviser, believes Mr. Gore's numbers will fade in the next few days. "I suspect that when we see the post-Labor Day polls Bush will have a small lead."
The tightening of the contest led to a decision by the Bush camp late last week to begin running TV ads raising questions about Mr. Gore's credibility. The ad reminds voters of Mr. Gore's participation in an illegal campaign fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple and his claim that he helped create the Internet.
In a state-by-state tally of the Electoral College numbers the only figures that count in a presidential election Mr. Bush still leads Mr. Gore in enough states to put him within striking range of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Mr. Gore, aided by his convention bounce, now has slight leads in a few key Midwest battleground states where he had been trailing, including Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa. He has a seven-point lead in Washington and a one-point lead in West Virginia, two states where Mr. Bush had led for several months.
In Illinois, a major electoral state where Mr. Bush had been ahead for months, a Mason-Dixon poll now finds Mr. Gore leading by 46 percent to 41 percent. But his five-point lead is close to the four-point margin of error and shows the state is still up for grabs.
"I'm delighted by the numbers. After the Democratic convention, I thought our deficit would be slightly higher," said Brad Goodrich, executive director of the Illinois Republican Party.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Illinois, where Mr. Bush yesterday kicked off his Labor Day campaign rally.
Mr. Gore began a round-the-clock Labor Day weekend campaign swing yesterday aimed at four key electoral targets: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Kentucky.
Mr. Bush also seemed to be holding his ground in Ohio, where he has enjoyed double-digit leads for much of the summer and is now leading Mr. Gore by six points, according to a Columbus Dispatch poll released yesterday. The Texas governor's lead is the same as the six-point margin he held in Ohio just before the conventions.
Meanwhile, a new Gannett poll in New Jersey indicates Mr. Gore has the upper hand there, 39 percent to 32 percent for Mr. Bush.
"Of course our numbers are down, but we expected that after the Democratic convention. Based on our local polls and our partial tracking, we're in the 7 to 9percent range, and I just feel good about where we are now," said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett.
Another sign of Mr. Bush's residual base strength in the Midwest could be seen in Michigan, a major electoral prize and a strong labor union state that President Clinton carried in 1992 and 1996. A statewide poll showed last week that Mr. Bush still clung to a narrow 40 percent-to-37 percent lead, despite Mr. Gore's bounce.
What is especially remarkable about Mr. Gore's campaign in the Midwest is how he has had to struggle in some key states that Democrats carried with ease in the past three elections, like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In Missouri, a key Midwest battleground, which is leaning to Mr. Bush, "Gore has no campaign headquarters here and no presence to speak of," said Missouri Republican State Chairman Ann Wagner.
"Geographically, the battle is being fought to Bush's advantage because of the huge inroads that he has made in states that Democrats carried four and eight years ago," Mr. Barbour said.
But Bush campaign officials were playing down the state polling numbers over the weekend, contending that the latest numbers were meaningless in the midst of Mr. Gore's post-convention bounce.
"From our standpoint, most of the state polls still reflect the vice president's bounce from his convention. The polls are still in the process of returning to normal in the wake of the two conventions," said Ray Sullivan, a Bush campaign spokesman.
"Sometime in the next week or two we expect the polls to be more reflective of the state of this campaign," Mr. Sullivan said.
Still, polls showed Mr. Bush leading Mr. Gore throughout most of the West. The biggest exception was California: Some surveys showed that Mr. Gore had lengthened his lead into double-digits while Mr. Zogby had him up by six points.
Mr. Gore was struggling in Oregon, where polls showed that Green Party nominee Ralph Nader was taking a sizeable chunk of liberal voters away from the vice president. One poll last week had Mr. Nader getting 9 percent of the vote.
Sierra Club Oregon Chairman Joe King said last week that "unless Gore does something that actually defines his position better on the environment and on large corporations, he's going to lose here."
In the South, with the exception of Mr. Gore's home state of Tennessee and Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas, it was hard to find a state where Mr. Bush was not leading.
The Gore campaign had hoped to become competitive in Georgia and North Carolina, both of which the GOP carried in 1996, but campaign sources said that Mr. Gore stopped running ads in those states last week.
Florida remained competitive because of its sizeable elderly population, which Mr. Gore is appealing to with his prescription drug plan, and some polls showed him moving ahead there after his convention.
But Mr. Bush has led in the state for most of the year and polls suggest that Mr. Gore's bounce has faded there, too, and that the race is very close, with Mr. Bush having a slight edge. A key factor there is the organization of Mr. Bush's brother Jeb, the governor of the state, and the overwhelming support of the Cuban-American population.
"My gut tells me that it's pretty close here. We're up a point or two," said Florida Republican Chairman Al Cardenas.

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