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Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2000 / 28 Elul 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Why Gore leads


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LAST WEEK was a good one for Texas Gov. George W. Bush and a bad one for Vice President Al Gore, and it was reflected in the main national polls.

Over the week, the Gallup poll showed Gore's lead increasing from five points to 10 early last week, then closing down to just three at the end.

In the meantime, the Voter.com Battleground survey showed Bush increasing his lead from one point to five. The Zogby/Reuters poll showed Gore's lead dropping from seven points to four. And the Rasmussen Portrait of America poll showed Bush up by two.

The Bush campaign insists that all this means that the race is "statistically dead even," but when evidence from key-state polling is factored in, the presidential race looks close, but it's still tilting toward Gore. Bush has stopped making mistakes and Gore has started making some -- nuzzling Hollywood, fabricating facts about drug costs and playing politics with oil prices -- but as of the middle of last week, the advantage still seemed to be with Gore.

The Bush aides said their man was leading by seven points in Ohio, his best battleground state, but a Wayne State University/Detroit Free Press poll has his lead at just two. The same poll put Gore up by eight in Michigan and 18 in Pennsylvania, though another survey showed Gore ahead by just 3 there. Rasmussen Research, a GOP firm, showed that in Florida the candidates are running even, and Zogby had Gore leading by five in hotly contested Missouri.

Moreover, the fundamentals of the contest have changed. Before the national conventions, the underlying attitude of U.S. voters seemed to be that they didn't particularly like Gore, they thought of Bush as a better leader, and they wanted a change after eight years of Bill Clinton.

Since the conventions, polls show that Gore and Bush are viewed equally favorably: Gore has acquired leadership talents voters hadn't seen before (though Bush still leads), Clinton is less of an election factor, and "the issues" are in the forefront.

And on the issues that matter most to voters -- the economy, education, health care, Social Security and Medicare -- Gore is ahead.

According to the Pew Research Center, Gore is up by six points on education, whereas the candidates once were even. On keeping the economy strong, Gore is up by eight. On health and retirement issues, he leads by 19 and 17 points, respectively.

Bush has a right to lay claim to being the reformer -- the "big thinker," even -- in this race, with pioneering proposals on Social Security, taxes and Medicare reform.

On the other hand, he is very late in mounting the kind of systematic voter-education effort that his out-of-the-box ideas require. Without that education, those ideas have been a target for Gore's favorite attack word: "risky."

Bush did get a boost by having a bipartisan group, Economic Security 2000, give his Social Security plan high marks and blast Gore's plan for doing "nothing to reduce the $10.37 trillion Social Security deficits." The group, whose chairs include Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, Neb., and Charles Stenholm, Texas, said that Bush's plan to allow individuals to invest part of their Social Security taxes in private markets was "bold and forward-looking" while Gore's "accounting defies credibility."

Bush last week also took quick advantage of Gore's proposal to use part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower high fuel oil prices in the Northeast.

Gore previously had opposed the idea as ineffective and, as the Wall Street Journal reported, it was opposed both by Treasury Sec. Larry Summers and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan because the reserve was designed for national security emergencies.

Bush pounced on oil prices as evidence of a "failed Clinton-Gore energy strategy" and criticized Gore for switching position on the reserve 47 days before the election.

Also last week, Bush performed winningly on Oprah Winfrey's show, which is widely watched by women voters -- a group that's shifted decisively to Gore since August.

The Battleground survey showed Gore ahead by seven points among women, while Gallup had his lead at 17, and Zogby, 11.

Gore got caught making up a story about how much his mother-in-law pays for an arthritis drug, but probably the most damaging event of the week was the hasty retreat he and his runningmate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., made from their previous threats to get tough with Hollywood.

At a glittery $4.2 million fund-raiser, Gore referred to the threats as "the controversy of the previous week" and Lieberman said he only meant to "nudge" Hollywood -- even though he has asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate broadcasters for "the explosion of crude, rude and lewd material" carried in prime time. Bush accused Gore and Lieberman, in effect, of selling out their principles for big money. But it remains to be seen if he will press the attack.

Bush had a good week, but he needs more of them -- and a strong debate performance -- to regain the lead he once enjoyed.



JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

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02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
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09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
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08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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