- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

Perhaps the biggest fear in George W. Bush's campaign right now is that it will become overconfident and lose its fighting edge. He is ahead of Al Gore in so many states, so early in the election, that top aides worry about how they can keep the energy level up at the grass roots.

By my count, the Texas governor is currently ahead of the vice president in 29 states with a total of 262 Electoral College votes, only eight short of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

The Bush campaign's own internal count has Mr. Bush ahead in enough states to win 273 electoral votes. Their electoral map in Austin has Mr. Gore ahead in states that would give Mr. Gore 138 votes, with 127 electoral votes up for grabs.

With numbers like these, Mr. Bush has the luxury of being able to focus much more of his time and resources on the battleground states in the Midwest and on California, where he has begun to cut deeply into Mr. Gore's once-double-digit lead.

In a contest that may not be as close in the Electoral College as most media pundits have forecast, Mr. Gore is ahead in only 12 states, including the biggest electoral powerhouse states of California and New York. All told, however, they would give him 167 electoral votes.

My latest state-by-state review, based on independent state polls, finds that nine states remain tossups, including three major states in the industrial Midwest.

Mr. Bush leads in all of the Western plains and mountain states and most of the Southern and Border states, while Mr. Gore leads in most of the Northeast and in California on the West Coast.

As it has in so many previous presidential elections, the outcome of the election will likely be decided in the Midwest, where the two candidates remain in a dead heat in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Elsewhere in the region, however, Mr. Bush has strong leads in Indiana, Ohio and Missouri, and a slight edge in Iowa.

In the West, Mr. Bush leads in Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and his home state of Texas.

While Mr. Gore has the edge in most polls in California, the contest has tightened there and recent polls find Mr. Bush has pulled even with his Democratic opponent.

A major factor in California is Mr. Bush's aggressive, pro-immigrant pitch for the Latino and Hispanic vote. Mr. Gore still has a majority of this critical voting bloc, but polls show Mr. Bush getting better than one-third of their vote the strongest Republican showing since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

But in the most significant sign of Mr. Gore's weakness, Mr. Bush continues to hold on to slight leads in Washington and Oregon, two states that the Democrats have carried easily in the last three presidential elections.

In addition to his commanding strength in the West, Mr. Bush appears poised to reclaim the South for the Republicans who once had a tight lock on the region, only to see it fall to Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Mr. Gore's liberal positions on gun control, abortion and other wedge issues have placed him outside of the conservative Southern mainstream.

Right now, Mr. Bush is running well ahead of Mr. Gore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, and even in heavily Democratic West Virginia.

Mr. Gore has paper-thin leads in only two Southern states: Arkansas and his home state of Tennessee, as well as an 8 point lead in Maryland.

Mr. Gore's strongest region is the more liberal Northeast, where he has double-digit leads in New York and New Jersey and is ahead in most of the New England states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont.

But Mr. Bush is making inroads even here, running 10 points ahead of Mr. Gore in New Hampshire; 3 points ahead in Pennsylvania, with its big cache of 23 electoral votes; and he has the edge in Delaware.

With four months to go in this campaign cycle, this is Mr. Bush's election to lose. The country is still doing well economically and for the first time in many years has the luxury of being able to indulge non-bread-and-butter issues and concerns like honesty, ethics, morality and decency at the highest levels of government.

For nearly eight years we have endured scandal, corruption, endless criminal investigations, and the stain and humiliation of impeachment that has not been sponged away. This has given birth to an overpowering desire for a national leader who will restore a level of dignity and public respect to the office of the presidency.

And this, more than anything else, is what is driving these surprisingly early electoral numbers for George W. Bush.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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