- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

The voters go to the polls tomorrow to choose the next president of the United States. If the political soothsayers are correct, the popular vote is likely to be fairly close. The electoral count, however, could be a dramatically different story.

The two major candidates raced into the final 24 hours before Election Day with most polls showing them just a few hair-thin percentage points apart and the outcome in doubt. But of course, we do not elect presidents by popular vote. We choose them through an electoral system based on the number of states each candidate carries.

There are 538 electoral votes in all, apportioned among the states based on the size of their congressional delegations. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Despite the closeness of the national opinion polls, George W. Bush goes into Tuesday's elections with a solid 214 electoral votes from 25 states 56 votes short of his goal. They include all the Western Mountain and Plains states from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande and almost all of the South (only three Southern states are in doubt).

Three additional states Iowa, Maine and Oregon were leaning toward Mr. Bush, which would boost his electoral total to 232, or just 38 short of the winning number.

In sharp contrast, Al Gore has clear leads in just eight states, most of them in the more liberal Northeast. They are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and the District of Columbia. These, plus Illinois, which is leaning toward Mr. Gore, would give him 114 electoral votes, or a little more than half the number Mr. Bush has in his column.

The outcome will be decided by 13 tossup states that are too close to call. And when I say close, I mean these are states where polls show the race dead even or within the polls' 4 percent or 5 percent margin of error.

The tossups are Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The tossup list is especially interesting in this election because it includes states you would think would be safely in the Democratic column such as Mr. Gore's home state of Tennessee, heavily Democratic West Virginia, and Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas.

California's rich lode of 54 electoral votes makes it the big enchilada of presidential politics. It used to be in Mr. Gore's column, but is now clearly in play. A poll of the state's heavily Democratic Hispanic community showed Mr. Bush last week drawing one-third of all Hispanic voters a strategic voting bloc that he and the Republican Party have aggressively courted.

Mr. Gore cannot win the presidency without California, but Mr. Bush can. Jimmy Carter was the last candidate to capture the White House without it. Before him, John F. Kennedy pulled off that spectacular feat (with the help of some people voting early and often in Chicago).

And that brings us to the six big tossup states that will decide who gets to be the next president: The big four battleground states of the Midwest Michigan (18), Minnesota (10), Missouri (11), Wisconsin (11) followed by Pennsylvania (23) in the North and Florida (25) in the South.

The most decisive factor in this down-to-the-wire race one that the national news media has generously ignored is that Mr. Gore has much more territory to make up in the electoral count than does Mr. Bush.

Building on his West-South base of 214 electoral votes, Mr. Bush just needs a handful of states to win 56 more votes and clinch the election. Add the Bush-leaning Oregon, Maine and Iowa to his list and he is at 232, just 38 short of winning.

If that were the case, Mr. Bush would need only three of the 13 tossups Missouri, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, for example. Or Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin, a state that has voted for lower taxes under Gov. Tommy Thompson. If Mr. Bush can take Florida, where polls indicate a dead heat, one or two additional states would be enough.

Mr. Gore, on the other hand, goes into Tuesday's final lap with a base of 114 electoral votes, and thus will need to find 156 more votes to win. If he carries California, which polls show he is favored to do, he will still need to win 102 more electoral votes. In that case, he would need to sweep the biggest eight of the remaining 12 tossups.

Carrying eight more states is a tall order indeed, especially when the national opinion polls suggest Mr. Bush has the edge among those who are likely to vote a fact that will surely help him in several of these tight contests. Mr. Gore will take a number of these key battlegrounds. But most of them? It seems unlikely.

The electoral numbers suggest that after eight disgraceful, exhausting, unremittingly scandal-filled years of investigations, indictments and impeachment, the American people are ready for a clean sweep and a fresh start.

Tomorrow, after a seemingly unending presidential campaign cycle, the voters will finally and mercifully have their say. Don't forget to vote.

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