- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

PHILADELPHIA — George W. Bush's convention strategy of combining his policy agenda with outreach to independents, minorities and women — without turning off the conservative base of voters — has worked, according to bipartisan and independent polls.
As a measure of the convention's success, Mr. Bush jumped to a 13-point lead from the 6-point lead he had over Al Gore on the day before the convention began, according to a new poll of 1,000 likely voters by Democrat Celinda Lake and Republican Ed Goeas.
"He pulled in more independents, swing voters, women, Hispanics — the groups Bush was targeting with this convention — and still maintained the intensity of core Republican voters," Mr. Goeas said.
Independent pollster John Zogby pronounced the Republican convention "a home run for Bush."
Mr. Bush now leads Mr. Gore by an overwhelming 18 percentage point — 58 percent to 40 percent — according to a model that the Goeas-Lake poll developed to measures intensity of voter commitment to a candidate, among other things.
In a Bush-Gore head-to-head matchup, the poll found Mr. Bush with 51 percent to Mr. Gore's 37 percent. In a four-way contest, Mr. Bush wins 47 percent, Mr. Gore 34 percent, Reform candidate Pat Buchanan 2 percent and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader 6 percent.
Mr. Zogby, here to observe the convention, said the "problem for the Democrats — and I don't know if it's surmountable — is how to attack Bush when two-thirds of the country likes him. Gore has to build up his likeability first, or the attacks on Bush sound like sour grapes or desperation."
The Bush convention strategy of presenting less of the traditional, delegate-pleasing red meat, anti-Democrat rhetoric of past nominating conventions and more of the softer, fuzzier language of "renewing America's purpose" was a risk.
His strategy was endorsed by the party's conservatives in part because they trusted him to bring success in November. A flop would might have undermined that trust in his judgment.
A pleased and relieved Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson said the planning and execution of the convention turned out to be perfect, but what mattered most was the candidate. "People like and trust him because they feel he likes and trusts them," he said.
Mr. Bush now leads "everywhere but in the Northeast and with every age group, and even there he decreased his double-digit deficit to only a six-point deficit," Mr. Goeas said. "Bush also now leads with men by 21 points, with women overall by six points and with white, married women with children — the soccer moms — by 16 points."
However, Mrs. Lake, the Democrat, said the new converts to Mr. Bush are "soft" and could switch to Mr. Gore after the Democrats hold their nominating convention in Los Angeles later this month.
Mr. Zogby, nonetheless, pronounced the convention design and execution as "nearly flawless."
"What we see here is the ironic reversal of party positioning," Mr. Zogby said. "Throughout much of the 1980s, Republicans were perceived by many as the small-tent party and mean, while the Democrats were the party of inclusion and heart."
"And now the Republicans are portraying themselves as the party of heart and inclusiveness, while the Democrats — from the president on down — are the mean-spirited party," Mr. Zogby said.
Even the decision to forego the traditional Tuesday-night Democrat bash-fest of Democrats appears to have worked.
"It's been our theory all year long that we're at a point in politics that is more important to grab the agenda and be positive than to spend our time trashing the opposition," said Bush campaign chief strategist Karl Rove.
Mr. Zogby said that "all voters see coming from the Democratic side is attacks on [vice presidential candidate Richard B.] Cheney and President Clinton belittling Bush."
The important thing as Mr. Zogby saw it was that nothing came out of this convention for the Democrats to use in making devastatingly negative commercials to criticize the Republicans.
At the same time, Mr. Zogby said, there "is plenty for Republicans to use in future ads — the Colin Powell speech, the John McCain speech, the Dick Cheney speech and all the images of women and minorities addressing the convention that the Republican Party wants to convey."
What's more, the success of the Republican convention forced Mr. Clinton to show "a mean side, by belittling Bush, saying his daddy bought him a baseball team," Mr. Zogby said. "That doesn't work against Bush."

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