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WASHINGTON — Forget the polls, just look at the signs emerging from the
campaigns of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore.
Which one is in the battle-ground states? Which one is defending home
turf? Which is publicly attacking a third party candidate he once
dismissed?

The polls, most of them anyway, have Bush in front by single
digits. Only the MSNBC-Reuters poll has Gore ahead by a similar
margin. A weekend boomlet for Gore in the volatile Gallup Poll reversed
itself by midweek once the unorthodox samples tested on Saturday and
Sunday evenings by the polling organization worked itself out of the
rolling three-day tracking survey. Most pollsters avoid sampling on
weekends because the respondents who do answer the phone tend not to be
representative of the population as a whole.

With news organizations demanding daily polls, such niceties fly out
the window.

No doubt something similar will happen next weekend as well and the
headlines may scream that either Gore has caught Bush or gone ahead of
him at the critical juncture. Gore may tighten the race but remember
the reliability of those samples.

However, if one wants to get a clearer picture of the campaign, there
are signs everywhere, most of them coming from the Gore camp. This past
week, the vice president’s campaign unleashed a frontal attack against
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. For months, the campaign ignored
Nader and dismissed the warning signs that the former consumer
advocate’s candidacy was drawing higher percentages of voters in
Democratic-leaning states than his national percentage.

Now, with Nader polling in double digits in Wisconsin — and nearly
as strongly in other Midwestern and Pacific states — Gore has had to
use surrogates to go after Nader voters, begging them (gently for now)
not to support the Green Party candidate. This week’s front-page story
in the New York Times signaled the start of the assault and Gore
acolytes were even cooking up “vote-pairing” schemes by which Democrats
in states sure to go for Bush would support Nader while Naderites in
battleground states would vote for Gore.

That way, the plan’s organizers insist, Gore will still get a
Democratic vote where it counts, while Nader will get one where it
doesn’t. The goal is to get the Greens enough votes nationally to
qualify for federal support and, at the same time, propel Gore to
victory in states where a Nader candidacy could tip the election to
Bush.

Nice idea, but confident campaigns don’t usually come up with Rube
Goldberg electoral inventions like this.

Inside the Gore camp itself, pollster Stan Greenberg publicly
expressed anxiety about the impending result. He told The Washington
Times that after the presidential debates, voters shifted to Gov. Bush
(particularly females) mainly because of style rather than issues.

What he was really saying was the equivalent of the fired baseball
manager’s lament: I managed good but those guys played bad. “Don’t
blame me,” he seems to be saying, “I had the right strategy, but the
wrong guy carried it out. Oh, by the way, I’m still available for the
next election.” In addition, Gore spokesman Todd Webster told MSNBC host
Chris Matthews that Bush is going to win Ohio. That’s quite a public
admission to make this late in the campaign.

One respected Midwestern political analyst told me this week that he
felt a national consensus had already been reached and a decision had
already been made. He didn’t say who was the beneficiary of this
verdict, but then, he didn’t need to. Using that as a given, it’s easy
to see why pundits say so many people have “tuned out of the race” –
there’s no reason to keep following it once someone’s mind is made up.

I suppose Gore could still pull it out — with the help of an all-out
blitz among the Democratic faithful from Bill Clinton. But the
president could drive away as many independent voters from Gore as he
attracts party regulars. Still, the margin of error for a Gore victory
gets narrower and narrower and it’s beginning to be difficult to see how
the Democrats win a week from Tuesday.




Neal Lavon
covers politics and other issues for the Voice of America in Washington. The views he expresses are his own.

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