- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri is falling in the polls, despite a barrage of Democratic TV ads against her Republican challenger for backing personal Social Security investment accounts.

Mrs. Carnahan's campaign has been running the ads throughout the state for the past three weeks, charging that her opponent, Jim Talent, wants to privatize the Social Security system. But the latest polls suggest that the ads have not been helping her; the former four-term congressman has surged into the lead by 6.5 percentage points.

President Bush, who wants to let workers invest a small part of their Social Security payroll taxes in stocks and bonds, is scheduled to make his fourth trip to Missouri today to campaign for Mr. Talent in a race that could give the Republicans the one-seat net gain they need to regain control of the Senate.

Mrs. Carnahan's plunge in the polls has mystified Democrats. She was leading Mr. Talent last month by 8 percentage points, and then a poll in early October by KSDK-TV in St. Louis showed the race suddenly had turned into a dead heat. More recently, a Zogby poll of 800 likely voters for MSNBC showed "a seismic shift" in voter attitudes toward her.

Among the survey's most damaging findings: 52.1 percent said they thought it was "time for someone new" in the Senate, and only 40.2 percent believed that she deserved to stay in the Senate.

Political observers in the state said that her sudden decline in the polls suggested that voter sympathy for Mrs. Carnahan was waning. She was named to her seat after her husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, was killed in a plane crash a few weeks before the 2000 Senate election, which he won posthumously.

But Missouri Democratic officials said yesterday that Zogby's polls did not reflect their own private surveys.

"Nobody is saying that it is not going to be a tight race, but it's a race that Carnahan is going to win. Our internal polling shows that she's up," said Democratic General Chairman Joe Carmichael.

Still, Democrats were privately dismayed over Mrs. Carnahan's ad-lib remarks this week that Republicans said had ridiculed the war on terrorism and insulted America's armed forces in Afghanistan.

As broadcast Tuesday over CNN, Mrs. Carnahan told a group of supporters, "I'm the number one target of the White House. They can't get Osama bin Laden, so they're going to get me."

She released a statement apologizing for her remark, explaining that her comment "was born of frustration" over the administration's determined campaign to defeat her, even though she had supported Mr. Bush's tax cuts and voted for the administration's resolution to use military force to topple Saddam Hussein.

But her bin Laden gaffe only served to underscore the contrast between Mrs. Carnahan, who has never run for elective office before, and Mr. Talent, a campaign veteran who spent eight years in the House and who nearly won the governorship two years ago.

Her polls were driven up last month in large part by a wave of AFL-CIO ads that pounded Mr. Talent and promoted her candidacy, only to fall back when those ads stopped and the Republican Party began questioning her experience and competence as a legislator.

With little more than two weeks to go before the election, the Carnahan campaign has been striking back aggressively on an issue that had not figured strongly in the campaign until this month.

"For the last few weeks, her ads have been bashing Talent on Social Security. They are all over the airwaves saying Talent wants to privatize Social Security. That's been their key focus," said Scott Baker, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party.

Mr. Talent has been airing a counteroffensive ad that says, "Jean Carnahan is attacking Jim Talent and scaring seniors once again." After listing bills he co-authored to help seniors, such as a patients' bill of rights and a prescription-drug benefit plan, the ad says, "So tell Jean Carnahan: Spend less time scaring seniors and more time working for them."

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