- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

With both the economy (for which he claims credit) and his polls slipping, nothing seems to be working for Al Gore.

As Mr. Gore defensively set out last week on a three-week "progress and prosperity tour" to persuade Americans that he has been responsible for America's economic expansion, he was hit by more bad news. A new poll by The Washington Post/ABC News showed that voters, by 46 percent to 41 percent, have more faith in George W. Bush's ability to handle the nation's economy than they do in Al Gore's.

This is an embarrassing rebuke to what should be the vice president's strongest claim: nearly eight years of remarkable prosperity.

But voters are not buying Gore's specious boast that the personal and business tax increases he and Bill Clinton pushed through Congress by a single vote in 1993 are responsible for today's still-surging economy.

In fact, Mr. Gore had nothing to do with the nearly two-decade-long growth of the nation's high-tech, Internet economy. The U.S. economy grew and the jobless rate fell despite the Clinton-Gore tax increases, not because of them.

First and foremost, the people who deserve the credit for the spectacular growth we have enjoyed are America's brilliant business managers, its canny capital investors, and the most productive work force on the planet. This economy grew because businesses overcame the Clinton-Gore tax increases by finding innovative ways to reduce costs, cut prices, boost productivity, and increase their after-tax earnings.

The Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was also a big factor in the economy's takeoff. They cut the capital gains tax significantly, over the initial objection of Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore, which unlocked investment capital for a host of new technology startups that propelled the financial markets to greater heights, pounded the jobless rate to a 30-year low, slew the inflation monster, and made labor shortages America's No. 1 problem.

The deficit was erased in large part by Congress appropriating less than Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore sought in their budgets, falling social welfare costs as a result of the strong economy, and a tsunami of tax revenues from a booming economy that has produced a string of budget surpluses as far as the eye can see.

But if Mr. Gore cannot beat Mr. Bush on the economic issue, where can he beat him?

The Post's latest numbers are filled with further bad news for the vice president. Mr. Bush is given much higher marks than Mr. Gore for leadership, with 65 percent rating the Texas governor a "strong leader." Only 48 percent say that about Mr. Gore.

Mr. Bush is also rated higher on "getting things done" and working with Congress. Mr. Gore is seen as more partisan and thus less effective.

And, on a personal level, voters have much more positive feelings about Bush, with 50 percent of them expressing a favorable impression of him. Only 45 percent view Mr. Gore favorably, and 35 percent view him unfavorably.

At the same time, Mr. Bush continues to lead Mr. Gore among men (51 percent to 43 percent) and among women (48 percent to 46 percent).

Undergoing the umpteenth reinvention of his campaign, Mr. Gore can't seem to find a theme that works for him. And a string of unfavorable stories in the news media have further undermined his candidacy.

The public disclosure of Justice Department memos recommending that he be investigated for the White House campaign finance scandal reminded many voters that he remains under a cloud of suspicion in the foreign fund-raising scheme that refuses go away.

Then came the embarrassing tale about the low-income family living on disability checks that rents their Tennessee home from Mr. Gore. They accused him of being a "slumlord" when they could not get their leaky, broken plumbing repaired and faced eviction.

Both stories did not receive the news attention they should have, but a week after they occurred, a John Zogby poll showed Mr. Gore's numbers falling sharply. He has Mr. Bush running ahead of Mr. Gore by 47 percent to 39 percent.

"The conclusion is inescapable. Bad news will change the numbers. Let's just say that it was not a good week for Al Gore," Mr. Zogby told me.

There are reports of a deepening division in Mr. Gore's campaign over strategy. The daily attack strategy backfired and has been put on hold, but there is internal bickering about what to replace it with. Gore surrogates were to resume the offensive, but they are nowhere to be seen.

Tony Coelho, the architect of Mr. Gore's failing campaign, abruptly left the campaign last week, ostensibly for health reasons. He has been replaced by Commerce Secretary William Daley, who has no national campaign experience. "Right now, Gore's campaign is a mess," said a veteran Democratic strategist.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gore continues to search for a strategy that can move his anemic numbers up again. His scare tactics on Social Security didn't cut it. Mr. Bush leads him among voters between the ages of 45 and 60.

Now he claims to have invented prosperity. Like his earlier statement that he helped to create the Internet, this one just isn't going to fly.

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

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