Gun Plan Shows Bush Isn't Solid in Colorado

One of the early signs that Colorado's eight electoral votes may no longer be a sure bet for Mr. Bush is a ballot initiative to require background checks of those buying guns at weekend shows.

Sponsors collected more than 85,000 signatures supporting the measure, which Republicans have historically opposed as more gun control, and it is expected to win overwhelmingly in November.

Democrat pollsters have also begun to see enough growing support for Democratic candidates for the State Senate, which Republicans have controlled for 40 years, that Democratic leaders say they believe they can overcome the current five- seat margin.

Then, said the Democrats' state party chairman, Tim Knaus, Mr. Gore's message on growth, environment, education and the economy began to catch on, and all of a sudden the presidential race in the state appears to be a dead heat.

The latest statewide poll, conducted this month for The Rocky Mountain News and KCNC, the CBS affiliate in Denver, found that Mr. Gore had closed the advantage Mr. Bush held in July, 45 percent to 31 percent, to a virtual tie of 43 to 40, with Mr. Gore inside the margin of error of 4 percentage points.

"That was huge news," Mr. Knaus said. "I was actually taken aback by how much momentum there was. I had been hoping we were within 10 points."

Gov. Bill Owens, who is serving as Mr. Bush's state campaign chairman, said he did not believe the poll and pointed to another, conducted by a firm that he and other Colorado Republicans use, that showed Mr. Bush with a lead "above 10 points."

Yet, he conceded: "The race has obviously narrowed, and Governor Bush has had some difficult weeks. But campaigns run in cycles and after a tough month that left us essentially even, we have a nice base to go back up."

Colorado has recently shown an independent streak in presidential elections, supporting Bill Clinton over President Bush in 1992 by 4 percentage points and Bob Dole over Mr. Clinton four years later by 2 points in a race in which third-party candidates won 10 percent of the vote.

But as one measure of the apparent shift back, the Democrats are investing more capital in Colorado, with Mr. Gore's running mate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, visiting today, to be followed by Mr. Gore's daughter Kristen next week. And talks are under way to bring in Mr. Gore.

Mr. Owens said he welcomed the visits. "I'm confident enough Coloradans will support Governor Bush," he said. "So every dollar they spend here takes it out of states they have a better chance of winning."

MICHAEL JANOFSKY

Stiff Fight to Sway New Mexico Voters

New Mexico has been a reliable national bellwether in presidential politics. In every presidential race except one since it became a state in 1912, New Mexico has supported the winner, often close to the margin as the nation as a whole. The lone exception came in 1976 when the state backed Gerald R. Ford.

This may help explain why both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush already have both visited this state with only five electoral votes and likely will come again before Election Day.

This weekend, The Albuquerque Journal is scheduled to release a poll that declares the race a statistical tie. The poll of 553 likely and registered voters gave Mr. Bush 43 percent and Mr. Gore 42 percent, with 11 percent remaining undecided. The poll, conducted by Research and Polling Inc., was taken from Sept. 7- 13. Neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Gore has an apparent reason for claiming momentum; a March poll found the two candidates tied.

Mr. Bush has courted Hispanic voters aggressively, and New Mexico would seem fertile ground for this appeal, since Hispanic residents make up about 41 percent of the state's population. But The Journal poll shows Mr. Gore with a lead among Hispanics, 57 percent to 25 percent.

"The Hispanic vote is critical for any Democratic presidential candidate to win here, and by a good margin, too," said F. Chris Garcia, a University of New Mexico political science professor, who noted that a strong Hispanic showing carried Mr. Clinton to victory in 1992 and 1996.

Mr. Garcia cited issues such as health care, education and Social Security as those important to voters but noted that no single issue seemingly stands out. There are about 918,000 registered voters (out of a state population of 1.7 million), with about 54 percent as Democrats, 33 percent as Republicans and the rest affiliated with other parties. Still, Mr. Garcia said the state was slowly becoming more conservative.

JIM YARDLEY

In Missouri, Crossing An Urban-Rural Divide

In the world of politics, Missouri is a curious hybrid.

It has two major cities: Kansas City with a Western flavor, St. Louis with an Eastern edge. It has large rural areas that resemble the Deep South. And it has fast-growing suburbs.

Missouri, with a Democratic governor and two Republican senators, tends to seesaw in presidential contests. In all but one election since 1900, the state has voted for the winning presidential candidate. (The exception was 1956, when Missouri went for Adlai Stevenson over Dwight D. Eisenhower.)

"I don't know whether to say we're a bipartisan state or simply ambivalent," said James W. Davis, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

But even by these standards, this contest for Missouri's 11 electoral votes is looking like a very close call, polls suggest.

One poll, taken by Zogby International and published on Sept. 10 in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, showed Mr. Gore with a slight lead 45 percent to Mr. Bush's 40 percent. But with a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points, that lead is decisively soft.

"Bush, I think, isn't regarded worse than he was," Professor Davis said. "He hasn't come down so much as Gore has come up."

In the poll, Mr. Gore's strongest support was in St. Louis. Outside the cities, he and Mr. Bush were statistically tied.

The candidates or their running mates have been visiting Missouri almost once a week.

The issues on the minds of Missourians are not too different from those preoccupying other voters. Education, health care and Social Security are most important, with farmers worried about agricultural policy.

John Hancock, the executive director of the State Republican Party, said he was optimistic, partly because much of Missouri is still quite rural, and Democrats have trouble in rural states, he said.

Roy Temple, executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, said the suburbs were the real battleground. Mr. Gore is "aggressively campaigning here and I think that's making a difference," he said.

Politics is certainly on the brain in Missouri this year. There is a tight Senate race between the Republican incumbent, John Ashcroft, and Gov. Mel Carnahan. There are contests for governor, two Congressional seats and four other state offices.

And with the presidential race, "as neck and neck as it is," Mr. Davis said, "everyone might think that their vote might make a difference."

PAM BELLUCK

Georgia Could Be Big Test for Bush

Georgia has not spent much time this year on anyone's list of hotly competitive states, but its unusual demographics could make it an important testing ground for Mr. Bush's ability to hold on to his base. Though Mr. Bush is still ahead here, his lead is narrow, and political professionals say there is no better place to gauge his national strength in the weeks ahead.

"If Georgia turns out to be close, that means Gore will win nationally," said Bobby Kahn, chief of staff for Gov. Roy E. Barnes and a leading Democratic strategists in the state.

The state has always been comfortable with centrist Democrats like Mr. Barnes and Senator Max Cleland, but like the rest of the South, it remains suspicious of Democratic presidential tickets. While Georgia did vote for Bill Clinton in 1992, that was mostly because Ross Perot drew support away from George Bush; four years later, Mr. Clinton drew more votes than in 1992, but was narrowly beaten by Bob Dole for the state's 13 electoral votes.

This teetering political balance is sustained by three distinct voting groups: African-Americans in Atlanta and a few smaller cities, who vote Democratic; suburbanites, many of them newcomers, in the growing rings around Atlanta, who tend to be Republican but will support centrist Democrats, and rural voters, who are less tied to party affiliations.

Black voters in Georgia tend to be better organized than in other Southern states, and their turnout, along with that of white suburban women, will be the key to the outcome, pollsters say. Two polls taken for each of the major parties since the convention showed Mr. Bush with leads of 6 and 7 percentage points, but both were fairly conservative with their estimates of black turnout. Both parties acknowledge that if black turnout is higher than it was for Mr. Barnes's election in 1998, the race will be much closer.

As a result, the Democrats will be concentrating on getting out black voters, hoping that the former Democratic Gov. Zell Miller's popular Senate candidacy will bring along suburbanites. Mr. Bush has already begun running television advertisements in the state's largest markets, unlike Mr. Gore; but both sides are expected to spend a considerable amount of money and time in the state beginning next month.

DAVID FIRESTONE



A G.O.P. Opportunity In New Hampshire



New Hampshire could fall either way. Mr. Bush had been leading slightly in recent months, but the latest poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center has Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore tied at 42 percent. About 10 percent said they preferred other candidates and 6 percent remained undecided.

Historically, the state had been a good bet for Republican presidential candidates, until Mr. Clinton was victorious here twice. The governor, Jeanne Shaheen, is a Democrat in her second term, and made Mr. Gore's short list of possible running mates. Still, 37 percent of registered voters are Republicans, compared with 27 percent who are Democrats.

Mr. Bush probably has uncomfortable memories of New Hampshire because of his stinging loss to Senator John McCain in the primary in February, but polls indicate he has won back most of those Republican votes. The polls show that each candidate can count on about three- quarters of his party's registered voters and will need to secure the rest, as well as win over a substantial number of independents, to prevail. New Hampshire residents like to vote, usually insuring a good turnout.

In the last few weeks, each candidate made his first campaign visit to New Hampshire since the primaries, and both made appearances at public schools. Voters in the state are particularly concerned with the local issue of education financing, as was made clear by the contentious debates that led up to Tuesday's statewide primaries. Taxes are, as always here, a biting concern.

New Hampshire is by far Bush's best chance of a victory in New England, and in recent weeks he has been running more ads here than his competition.

JULIE FLAHERTY