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Gore-Bush Contest A Dead-Heat With 8 Weeks To Go

September 10, 2000

George W Bush For Dummies The US Presidential election campaign is now in full swing with Democratic Party Vice-President Al Gore leading in some opinion polls against his Republican Party opponent, Governor George W. Bush of Texas.

A Newsweek poll of 595 likely voters taken last Thursday had Gore on 49% to 41% for Bush. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 675 likely voters taken late last week showed Bush at 46 percent and Gore at 45 percent.

Despite having raised more than $100 million in campaign funds, Bush enters the last few weeks of the campaign at best even with Gore. Bush spent much of his money during the bruising primary encounter with Senator John McCain. Federal Election Commission figures show he had spent $93 million to the end of June, double Gore's spending. Also at the end of June, the Republican candidate had $21.1 million in cash in the bank, compared to $9.3 million for the Democrats. Gore is aiming to raise $7 million in this coming week.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who similarly raised huge sums of money in the 1996 campaign, Bush had not achieved an electoral ascendancy by last week's Labor Day holiday. Historically, it has proven difficult for candidates to catch up after this time.

Whilst trailing Bush for most of the past year, Gore appears to have bounced back into the contest since the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Click to enlarge In the past week he has been endorsed by the influential Teamsters Union and the Friends of the Earth environmental group, both of which were previously considered likely to support Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Their support is significant for what it suggests about the voter turnout in the November election. In a close contest in a political system where little more than 50% of the eligible population is likely to vote, the support of key groups which can mobilise voters is vital to electoral success.

Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration, who supported Bill Bradley in the primary contests, has expressed support for Gore, a shift that highlights Gore's consolidation of the base of the Democratic Party. Since the convention, support for Gore amongst Democratic voters has increased.

Most of the past week has been dominated by coverage of Bush's unguarded description of a New York Times journalist as a "major league ass-hole" and his gyrations over the format of official debates with Gore.

Whilst Gore appears to have gone some way towards alleviating his image as a "stiff" policy wonk, partly because of a spate of absurdly trivial coverage of his convention kiss with his wife, Tipper, Bush continues to suffer from a perception that he is a lightweight.

It is important to remember that the presidential election will be won not on the national vote, but on state-by-state results. Each of the 50 states is allocated delegates to the Electoral College which formally chooses the president. States receive delegates equal in number to the combined total of their House of Representatives and Senate representation. For instance, California has 54 delegates, whereas South Dakota has 3.

Under the winner-take-all system, a candidate secures all of the Electoral College votes in a State in a first-past-the-post voting system. The winning candidate needs 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes to win. It is possible for a candidate to win the presidency with a minority of the vote, provided he wins enough big States.

In 1996 and 1992 Clinton won 379 and 370 votes respectively. In 1996 Clinton won 32 states plus Washington DC.

Polls suggest that California and New York are near-certain Gore wins, whilst Bush will easily win Texas. Bush will win most of the nation's rural centre, whilst Gore will dominate in the north-east New England states.

Recent polls indicate Gore ahead 44-40 in Illinois and a close contest in New Hampshire.

Florida is a key battleground, won by Clinton in 1996, but previously Republican territory. Interestingly, Bush's brother, Jeb, is the Republican Governor of Florida.

The election is thus likely to be decided in the mid-west industrial states where a large proportion of Americans live. The suburban vote will be crucial. The states of Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Illinois will be the focus of campaigning and television advertising in the coming weeks.

Gore and Bush are both visiting Pennslyvania in the coming week. With 12 million people and 23 electoral college votes, the Keystone state is a classic political battleground. Won by Clinton in 1992 and 1996, but with a popular Republican Governor, Tom Ridge, and two Republican Senators, it will help shape the outcome of the election. Both parties have already spent $5 million in advertising and Gore has visited the state 17 times and Bush 14 times.

The gender gap has also emerged as a potent force in this election. Gore leads Bush by up to 20 points amongst women, whilst Bush has a commanding lead amongst men.

In recent days, signs of panic have emerged in Republican ranks. Lyn Nofziger, a former aide to President Ronald Reagan, writes in today's New York Times that it is time for Bush to go on the attack. Repeating the old adage that "nice guys finish last", Nofziger points to the myth about Ronald Reagan's approach to campaigning and calls on Bush to campaign strongly against Gore on campaign fundraising, "extreme environmentalism" and political truthfulness.

The Washington Post reports today that the Republican camp is pondering the viability of continuing a campaign that focuses on the question of integrity in the White House, given that Gore appears to have successfully created an individual image of his own separate from Clinton, bolstered by the selection of Lieberman. Moreover, attacks on Clinton have failed to shift voters in the past, notably in the 1998 mid-term elections.

The battle of the vice-presidential candidates is also taking on an interesting shape. The poll numbers for Democratic candidate Senator Joe Lieberman have nearly doubled in recent weeks, according to an ABC-Washington Post poll, whilst Republican Dick Cheney's unfavourability ratings have also doubled.

Lieberman appears to have clicked with voters because of his affability, crumpled charm and social conservatism laced with religious moralising. Cheney, however, is an awkward public speaker and has been battling questions over the $3.5 million in stock options he has received from his former oil company, Halliburton. He has become a dead-weight in the Bush campaign.

The Olympic Games will take some attention away from the campaign from next weekend, so the coming week could be crucial for the momentum of each candidate.

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