- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2000

A hundred million Americans will put an end to a grueling 16-month marathon today, electing the 43rd president of the United States.

George W. Bush of Texas, the Republican nominee and the son of the 41st president, ended the campaign with a modest lead in most polls, but Al Gore of Tennessee, the vice president and the son of a United States senator, is close enough to make the race too close for pollsters to confidently call.

The weather forecast for the nation is decidedly mixed and some of it will be bad: cloudy skies along the Atlantic coast from Richmond north to New England; thunderstorms across the South, rain in the Great Lakes states, snow in the Dakotas and across the Rocky Mountain West and rain in the Southwest.

Fair skies and mild temperatures are forecast for the District of Columbia, Maryland and most of Virginia.

Bad weather is usually bad news for Democrats, and this year Mr. Bush's Republican base is believed to be extraordinarily motivated after eight years of a Democratic White House.

The two candidates battled in the final hours for a dozen or so tossup states, where just a tiny fraction of voters could and likely will determine the outcome of what may turn out to be the closest election since John F. Kennedy, the Democrat, defeated Richard M. Nixon, the Republican, by two-tenths of 1 percent of the vote in 1960.

A state-by-state analysis by The Washington Times shows both candidates approaching the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency when all the major states are parceled out by the voters.

The fight for the House, where Democrats are a mere seven seats away from wresting control from the GOP, is focused on a relatively small handful of races. Most congressional election analysts believe that the GOP will likely keep control of the chamber by the narrowest of margins perhaps by only one or two seats.

"Democratic gains are likely in the House, and control remains in doubt," elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg has told his subscribers. "But if we were forced to guess whether the Democrats would hit the six or seven they'll need to win a majority, we'd guess they may fall just short. But don't bet much on it either way."

In the Senate, where the Republicans hold a 54-46 majority, perhaps half a dozen seats could change hands. The Democrats now seem poised to pick up at least two seats net, perhaps more. At least seven Republican seats are thought vulnerable to upset, and five Democratic seats are believed to be at risk.

As the final presidential polling numbers flowed in yesterday, campaign strategists in both camps searched for the combination that could give their candidate the 270 Electoral College votes needed.

The final tracking polls show Mr. Bush running slightly ahead in Missouri, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Mr. Gore's home state of Tennessee, five of the 13 tossup states that would add 37 electoral votes to his total.

When added to Mr. Bush's 214 electoral vote base in the West and the rest of the South, that number would lift his total to 251 or just 19 short of the 270 he needs to win. This means that a handful of other states where polls showed him ahead including Oregon, Iowa, Maine, West Virginia and Delaware could put him over the top without his carrying Florida, once thought crucial.

However, Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief campaign strategist, said last night he is "feeling very good" about Florida, where the latest Zogby poll shows Mr. Bush trailing by three points and other internal polls show him up by two to five points.

The fight for Pennsylvania, the biggest remaining tossup state, had come down to "hand-to-hand combat," Mr. Rove said yesterday. Polls showed Mr. Gore with a two-point edge there.

The state-by-state electoral map in the 24 hours before Election Day shows Mr. Gore leading in California, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

These 14 states that form Mr. Gore's electoral base would give him a total of 207 votes. Florida and Pennsylvania would lift him to 255, but still 15 votes short of 270.

To reach 270, the vice president would need Tennessee's 11 votes along with several other smaller states, possibly Maine (four votes) or West Virginia (five votes) or Arkansas (six votes), traditionally Democratic states where the latest polls still show him trailing.

Zogby's final national poll is the only tracking poll showing Mr. Gore in the lead; others show Mr. Bush up by two to nine points.

Strategists in the two camps agree that the outcome will turn on turnout which side can get its supporters to the polls.

Curtis Gans, a turnout specialist, thinks that the chances are better than even that overall turnout will likely be down a little, which could hurt Mr. Gore, whose lower-income voter base tends to have a much weaker turnout rate.

"It is more likely that national turnout will either remain the same as 1996, despite the closeness of the election, or go down further," Mr. Gans said yesterday.

"But it would not shock me if it went up a point or two, based on late breaking voter interest not readily apparent now. I put turnout within a range of three points below 1996 to about two points above," he said.

Maryland and Virginia elections officials said they expect about 80 percent and 75 percent of registered voters, respectively, to cast ballots today. D.C. elections officials declined to project turnout.

The forecast could be good news for U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, as he struggles to close the gap with Republican challenger George F. Allen in what is projected to be one of the closest Senate races in the country.

Mr. Robb is thought to need at least 90 percent support from black voters and good turnout to be re-elected, says Mark Rozell, a Catholic University politics professor who specializes in turnout projections.

In the District, there's a chance more voters will be drawn to the polls to vote for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who advocates statehood for the District, Mr. Rozell said.

In Maryland, the first-time availability of absentee ballot applications on the Internet could make a difference in Montgomery County, where voters will decide whether to limit the county executive and council members to two terms. With 23,201 absentee ballots issued in Maryland's 8th District which encompasses most of Montgomery County, U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella might not be sure before Saturday whether voters have given her an eighth term in a competitive challenge from Democrat Terry Lierman.

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