- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

George W. Bush and Al Gore were neck-and-neck as they raced out of the Labor Day weekend kickoff events and into the final lap of the general election at least in the national opinion polls.
But the state-by-state races for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency is the only contest that matters. It rarely gets mentioned in the often-shallow reporting by the national television news media . In that race, Bush appears to be much stronger, even though Mr. Gore has edged slightly ahead in some key Midwest battlegrounds.
My post-Labor Day analysis of the electoral-count race shows that Mr. Bush at this point still leads Mr. Gore in enough states to put him within striking range of 270.
Mr. Bush leads in two dozen states across most of the South, the Western plains and Mountain states, and parts of the Midwest. These states would give him a combined total of 257 electoral votes, 13 shy of the winning number.
A drawing of Mr. Bush's position on the electoral map right now looks like a large, thick L, running from Montana to Texas and then due east across most of the South.
Mr. Gore, on the other hand, is leading in a dozen states with a combined total of 170 electoral votes, or 100 votes short of his goal.
Nearly a dozen critical battleground states remained tossups, most of them in the Midwest.
Right now, Mr. Bush is leading in the Western states of Montana, North and South Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and, of course, his home state of Texas.
On the West Coast, Mr. Gore remains ahead in California, though a Zogby poll shows his lead shrinking to 6 points. With 54 huge electoral votes at stake there, Mr. Bush plans to plow money and time into the state to force Mr. Gore to devote more resources there though at this point, it appears firmly in Mr. Gore's column.
In the Northwest, Washington and Oregon, states that Democrats usually take for granted, are still tossups. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was polling 9 percent in Oregon last week, all of it coming from Mr. Gore's liberal base, and Mr. Bush was surprisingly competitive in Washington.
In the South and Border states, Mr. Bush is ahead in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia. Mr. Gore leads in Maryland, a diehard Democratic state.
There were even deeper signs of Mr. Gore's endemic weakness throughout the South: He stopped running ads last week in North Carolina, where he had hoped to be competitive. He leads Mr. Bush by an anemic 6 to 7 points in his home state of Tennessee. And Arkansas and Florida remain tossups though some polls show Mr. Bush with an edge in both states.
Mr. Gore is ahead, though struggling in heavily Democratic West Virginia, a big coal-mining state unhappy with his environmental crusade against coal.
The more liberal Northeast is Gore's strongest region. Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and possibly Maine are in his column. So is New York and New Jersey. But not Pennsylvania, where 23 electoral votes are at stake. Mr. Bush currently leads there, as he does in Delaware.
The pivotal Midwest, which received most of the candidates' attention on Labor Day, is more complicated. Mr. Gore is struggling in states that the Democrats usually carry with ease, but he has edged ahead in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
Still, Wisconsin, where Mr. Bush has been leading for months, is a tossup; as is Michigan, where an independent poll showed last week that Mr. Bush led by 40-37 percent. Indiana, Ohio and Missouri (where Mr. Gore still has not opened up a state headquarters) are in Mr. Bush's column.
What all of this shows is that Mr. Gore has a huge mountain to climb to get to 270. If he is to beat Mr. Bush, he must carry Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida. And he doesn't have any margin for error. If Mr. Gore loses one or two of these states to Mr. Bush, he is finished.
In the meantime, the central political question of this campaign is whether Mr. Gore's big-spending (his social-welfare proposals would cost a whopping $2.3 trillion over 10 years), class-warfare, anti-big-business strategy can attract the independent swing voters who will decide this election.
Al From, the New Democrat architect who helped elect Bill Clinton with a more centrist-flavored agenda, doesn't think so. "A redistributionist appeal doesn't work anymore," Mr. From said after Mr. Gore's left-leaning speech in Los Angeles. "Attacking oil companies and pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies will not win elections, I guarantee you."
We'll know soon enough whether Mr. From is right.

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

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