- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

NEWS ANALYSIS

Despite the best economy in decades and soaring confidence that the country is moving in the right direction, Vice President Al Gore remains virtually tied with George W. Bush in most national polls released yesterday.
The Texas governor's campaign claims that what it calls the vice president's "credibility problem" accounts for Mr. Gore underperforming by historical standards.
One of the most closely watched surveys with the longest history of presidential election polling, for example, is the Gallup poll. Its first post-Labor Day survey of 777 likely voters found the Democratic presidential candidate leading by three percentage points within the error margin of plus or minus four points.
A new survey of 1,001 likely voters by John Zogby also has Mr. Gore ahead by five points, in a survey that has an error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
In the Zogby poll, 45 percent said the country is going in the right direction and only 27 percent said it was on the wrong track normally a leading indicator that the party that holds the White House will keep it.
But an ABC News-Washington Post poll of 810 likely voters, with an error margin of 3.5 percentage points put the race dead even at 47 percent.
The largest sampling of likely voters, however, has Mr. Bush ahead. The Portrait of America poll finds Mr. Bush leading by 2.1 percentage points, but this poll a rolling three-day average of 2,250 likely voters has an error margin of, coincidentally, plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore both have solidified their bases, holding the allegiance of about nine of 10 voters in their own parties and splitting the independent vote about evenly, according to the Gallup poll.
The latest polls show widening "gender gaps," with Mr. Bush capturing male voters and Mr. Gore female voters, who tend to like the Democrat's views on the "soft issues," such as education and health care, Mr. Zogby said.
Much has been made recently of the large bounce Mr. Gore got from the Democratic convention last month, but the new surveys and internal Bush campaign and Republican polling may signal that the Gore post-convention surge has run its course.
Even the rule of thumb that the candidate who leads in the polls after Labor Day has the election sewed up is being questioned.
"That's been true in most cases in modern times, and it was also true that a candidate needed to win in New Hampshire in order to win the presidency, but Bill Clinton proved that wrong," said Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns & Elections Magazine.
"Historically, the candidate who led outside the margin of error in the Gallup poll after Labor Day went on to win in November," Matthew Dowd, Bush campaign survey research director, told The Washington Times.
He noted that John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 trailed within the Gallup poll's margin of error after Labor Day but went on to win.
Mr. Zogby, the independent pollster, is even more skeptical of the post-Labor Day rule. "Sure, it's been true historically when it's been true," he told The Times. "Here we have a competitive race there's no other way to look at it."
The Bush campaign, meanwhile, is beginning to attack what it perceives as Mr. Gore's vulnerability. What's more, the Republican's organization is doing so by spending relatively little money buying air time and instead relying on the media's reporting on the ads as newsworthy events a tactic the Republican National Committee has also employed this year.
Bush advisers said the idea is to hold off major ad spending for as long as possible in order to be prepared to mount a muscular response to anything the Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee may throw at the Republican ticket further down the road.
The latest Bush campaign ad uses the dispute over how and when to hold presidential debates as a platform to question Mr. Gore's credibility by subtly linking his word parsing with President Clinton's famous musing of the meaning of the word "is." The ad's tag lines say: "Does Al Gore now mean debates depend on his meaning of 'any time, anywhere'? If we can't trust Al Gore on debates, why should we trust him on anything?"
The ad is reminiscent of a caustic criticism by Bill Bradley, who was Mr. Gore's only opponent in the Democratic nomination contest earlier this year. Mr. Bradley said in a Jan. 27 debate with Mr. Gore in New Hampshire: "Why should we believe you will tell the truth as president, if you don't tell the truth as a candidate?" But that and other Bradley statements questioning Mr. Gore's honesty may be seen in future Bush campaign ads.
Indeed, the Bush campaign came in for criticism from some Republicans for having held its fire and conserving its resources for the long slog to Nov. 7 while the Gore campaign and the DNC conducted a one-sided air war against Mr. Bush in late summer.
Republicans tasked with delving into Mr. Gore's history believe they have a wealth of examples of Gore "opportunism" and "dissembling" on which to draw for upcoming "comparison" commercials.
One under consideration is Mr. Gore's latest job-creation promise.
A Gore campaign press release on Sept. 7, for example, said: "After touring Gentex Corporation's new manufacturing sections [in Nashville. Tenn.], Al Gore today highlighted his goal of creating 10 million new, high-tech, high-skill jobs over the next decade."
What the Gore release didn't mention was that a new study by Anderson Consulting, released on Aug. 28, said that by 2002, the Internet economy alone without any help from Mr. Gore, Mr. Bush or anyone else is expected to create more than 10 million new jobs, most of them in the United States and some in Europe.

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