- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2000

The first and most persuasive sign today that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is the president-elect will be an early call for him in Florida or a bigger than expected margin for him in Kentucky.

Voting in Kentucky ends at 6 p.m. EST and in the pivotal state of Florida, without which Vice President Al Gore will have a hard time succeeding President Clinton, the voting booths close at 7 p.m.

If Kentucky betrays little and Florida is too close to call, then by 8 p.m. the polls will close in three other early but key swing states. They are Missouri, which Republicans consider already safe for Mr. Bush, and Michigan and Pennsylvania, both of which are genuine tossups.

"If Governor Bush wins Florida and his leads hold in national polls and does well in early states, we'll know early on he has become the president-elect," said pollster Scott Rasmussen.

His Portrait of America poll, the largest in the country, has for weeks had Mr. Bush well ahead, beyond the margin of error nationally. The survey also shows the Texas governor ahead in the Electoral College count.

"If those states don't go as well for Bush, it will be a long night and the longer it goes, the better the chance Gore has of being the winner," Mr. Rasmussen said.

Pollsters and campaign strategists have a bundle of other tips for getting an early handle today on which way things are headed.

Watch, they say, to see if Mr. Bush is doing slightly better than the polls projected in Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Florida.

In Kentucky, Mr. Bush has a slight edge, but if that state is going for him by 10 points, it probably means a big night for Mr. Bush.

"It is just as likely to be a blowout in the Electoral College as a split between the popular vote winner and the Electoral College winner," Republican pollster Ed Goeas said.

"Everyone is wringing his hands over close states, but not asking if it can go overwhelmingly to Bush, which creates landslide," Mr. Goeas said. "History says that is a better bet than winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College."

There are groups to watch for in the exit polling.

"I'm going to look out for $25,000-$50,000 [income category] because history suggests the winner has to carry them," said independent pollster John Zogby.

"When Gore was on top or the race was tightening in his favor, he was doing better with that group, and vice versa for Bush," Mr. Zogby said.

Also, watch to see how Mr. Bush does with married voters, especially married women, where one of his strengths has been.

"If it's tighter than the last poll, that's bad news for Bush," Mr. Zogby said.

As for the black vote, it's not enough for Mr. Gore to get the 85 percent of it that he has been polling. The black vote has to be a better percentage of the total vote than in the past for him to do what he needs to do.

"Otherwise, that will be a problem for Gore," Mr. Zogby said.

Bellwether state districts to watch include Macomb County, Mich. which Mr. Zogby had going for Mr. Gore in his latest polling and retiring Republican Rep. John R. Kasich's Columbus, Ohio, district. But Michigan looks good for Mr. Gore, while Ohio looks solidly in the Bush column.

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