- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

A recent independent poll shows Democratic Rep. Bob Clement gaining ground on front-runner Republican Lamar Alexander, as the Senate race in Tennessee goes into its final stretch.
Mr. Clement has cut Mr. Alexander's lead from 19 percentage points to 10 points in the past month, according to a Mason-Dixon Poll conducted Oct. 21-23 for the Nashville Tennessean and Chattanooga Free Press. Mr. Alexander still leads by 10 points, 50 percent to 40 percent, the poll found. An earlier Mason-Dixon poll taken Sept. 17-19 had Mr. Alexander at 54 percent and Mr. Clement at 35 percent.
"We're closing the gap on name recognition," said Clement campaign spokeswoman Carol Andrews.
Mr. Alexander is very well-known in the state, since he was a former governor, former education secretary and twice ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Republicans continue to express confidence that he will win.
"We feel great," said Alexander campaign spokesman Kevin Phillips. "Nothing has changed since the race began. Lamar Alexander continues to lead in every statewide poll."
He said the Alexander campaign's internal polls also show Mr. Alexander with a 10 percentage point lead, but he said, "we always expected the race to get closer at the end."
Larry Harris of the Mason-Dixon group said the gap has narrowed partly because people are paying attention to the election now that the Washington-area sniper has been caught and Congress has passed the Iraq war resolution sought by President Bush.
"People are beginning to make up their minds in the closing weeks," he said.
But he said while national numbers show people paying more attention to the economy a trend that favors Democrats Tennesseans are still paying more attention to national security issues, which favor Republicans.
In order for Mr. Clement to close the gap further, Mr. Harris said, he must focus Tennessee voters on the economy and he must get out the black Democratic vote.
The Clement camp appears to be heeding that advice. Mr. Clement was endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus this week. CBC Chairwoman Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat, left for Tennessee on Tuesday to help him campaign.
"The momentum seems to be on his side," she said Tuesday before boarding the plane for Tennessee.
But Mr. Alexander's pollster, Whit Ayres, said any gain in the polls for Mr. Clement is simply because Democratic voters who had no idea who Mr. Clement was now know him and are pledging their support.
"Clement has already gotten the easy votes for him to get," Mr. Ayres said. "Any further closing will be far more difficult and far more unlikely."
Mr. Harris agreed that Mr. Alexander is looking strong and "unless something substantial happens here in the last week and the Democrats nationally get a tremendous amount of momentum, this is Alexander's to lose."
The Clement campaign is continuing to question Mr. Alexander's corporate connections and business dealings. The Democrats began running a television ad Tuesday saying Mr. Alexander "made $3.9 million using his political contacts."
The ad also defends Mr. Clement's record on taxes, saying he voted for the Bush tax cut and to cut the death tax and marriage penalty. It will run alongside another Clement ad that promises Mr. Clement will focus on creating jobs, strengthening the economy and lowering prescription-drug costs.
Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Tennessee Republican Party began running a new TV ad this week criticizing Mr. Clement's record on the military.
The Clement camp called it "lies" and issued a statement yesterday defending Mr. Clement's military record and reminding voters that he "is a veteran and knows what our military needs."
Some Republican operatives in Tennessee said they hear President Bush will make one more swing through the eastern part of the state this coming weekend to rally support for Republican candidates, including Mr. Alexander.
One Democratic strategist said that is an indication that the GOP is worried about the race, but he also noted that Mr. Bush is campaigning in almost every state.
Mr. Alexander, meanwhile, continued his three-week "Protect Tennessee Jobs" tour. And in a television ad that began running Monday, Mr. Alexander reminds voters that while he was governor, "Tennessee brought in the auto industry and became the fastest-growing state in family incomes."

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