George W. Bush is leading Al Gore in the contest for the Electoral College vote but remains 31 votes short of the 270 needed to win the presidency, according to a state-by-state projection by The Washington Times.
Based on the latest independent public opinion polls, Mr. Bush is running ahead of Mr. Gore in 26 states that would give him a total of 239 electoral votes.
Mr. Gore presently leads in 13 states plus the District of Columbia for a total of 189 electoral votes, or 81 votes short of the winning number.
There are 11 tossup states, totaling 110 electoral votes, where the two candidates are either tied or their lead in the polls is inside or close to the margin of error.
These states are Arkansas, Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
What this means at this point is that Mr. Bush would have to carry just two or three of these tossup states in order to clinch the election.
For example, it would take victories only in Pennsylvania (23 electoral votes) and Michigan (18) to put Mr. Bush over the top.
Mr. Bush has pulled even with Mr. Gore in Michigan, closing a gap of as much as 12 points from a month ago.
Similarly, Missouri, Washington and Wisconsin would give him 33 more votes, two more than he needs.
The climb for Mr. Gore to reach 270 is much steeper. In order to get the 81 additional electoral votes he needs, he would have to carry at least six of the 11 tossups, including Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Washington and his home state of Tennessee.
But that is a tall order right now. Recent polls in the Nashville Tennessean and the Chattanooga Times-Free Press show Mr. Bush who has made a number of appearances there edging past Mr. Gore in his home state.
The picture has begun to look so bleak in Tennessee once taken for granted by Mr. Gore that his campaign has begun spending money there on television ads.
A month ago, Mr. Gore had lengthened his lead in several of the battleground states, but since the debates Mr. Bush has bounced back in many of them and closed the gap.
In Pennsylvania, for example, where Mr. Gore had a double-digit lead last month, the latest independent polls show Mr. Bush trailing by six points and a Republican Public Opinion Strategies poll has him leading by two points.
In Florida, where the two rivals have been in a seesaw battle for months, two polls now show Mr. Bush leading by a small margin. The Torrance Group polling firm had Mr. Bush ahead by four points, 46 percent to 42 percent, while the Mason-Dixon poll gave him the edge, 47 percent to 44 percent.
California has been in the Gore column for most of the year, and the latest Field poll of 1,018 likely voters shows Mr. Gore leading there, 50 percent to 37 percent. But another survey by independent pollster John Zogby showed Mr. Bush trailing by only six points, with 7 percent undecided.
Mr. Bush now says, “I think we will win California.”
But as it stands now, California is leaning to Mr. Gore, as are Illinois, Iowa, Maine and Minnesota.
As it has since the end of the primary season, the electoral map still shows Mr. Bush sweeping the western plains and mountain states and most of the Deep South and the border states.
Florida, where both campaigns are spending heavily on TV ads, is seen right now as “leaning to Bush.” The Gore campaign stopped running ads in Ohio last week to shift some of its resources to Florida, according to Democratic campaign advisers.
Mr. Gore has traveled to Florida several times in recent weeks. During one stop, he reprised the Democrats’ 1995 “Mediscare” tactic by declaring Mr. Bush an enemy of Medicare.
Mr. Gore had hopes of being more competitive in the South, but it is hard to find a state where he is doing well in the region. His struggle to carry his own state underscores the troubles he is having elsewhere in the South.
In Louisiana, where Democrats hope that a heavy black turnout will win the state for Mr. Gore, Mr. Bush is up by six percentage points, according to his internal polls.
Arkansas remains a tossup, despite recent efforts by President Clinton to win his home state for Mr. Gore. Mr. Bush has the edge there now.
Mr. Bush is leading in Kentucky, where Republicans have been relentlessly attacking Mr. Gore as “the enemy of tobacco” and pounding him for “his lack of credibility.” A Bush adviser told The Washington Times that “our polls show that race is over for Gore.”
In Georgia, a state that Republicans have carried in four out of the past five presidential elections, the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed Mr. Bush leading, 52 percent to 36 percent.