As Electoral Vote Takes Shape, Campaigns Focus on
By ADAM CLYMER
WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 — Vice
President Al Gore, who has erased Gov. George W. Bush's lead in most national
polls, has also edged ahead of him in the battle for electoral votes, according
to independent and partisan analysts. But despite the postconvention trend in
Mr. Gore's favor, enough states are either tossups or held so narrowly that the
race remains fiercely competitive.
The overall picture is almost a mirror
image of how things looked before the Republican National Convention, when Mr.
Bush held a slim but decided lead in the Electoral College.
states that had leaned Mr. Bush's way, like Florida, Michigan, Missouri and
Wisconsin, have since become tossups, according to strategists in both
campaigns, as well as postconvention polls and political scientists interviewed
around the country. Similarly, earlier tossup states like Minnesota, New Jersey
and Pennsylvania are now leaning toward Mr. Gore.
Both sides are fighting
hard in the battleground states. This week, for example, the Bush campaign and
the Republican National Committee were buying television time costing $995,000
in Pennsylvania, $719,000 in Michigan and $665,000 in Ohio. Television spending
by the Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee was $763,000 in
Pennsylvania, $632,000 in Michigan and $745,000 in Ohio.
campaigns did not disagree sharply about how most states stood, they offered
very different interpretations of what the current standings meant. Matthew
Dowd, the Bush campaign's internal pollster, said: "This race is right now
nationally within one or two points. Electorally, we both are starting out with
about the same amount of states in our safe column. Then there are 10 or 12
states that are sort of up for grabs, even, or us up a little in some, or them
up in some."
Tad Devine, a Gore strategist, argued that the trend in Mr.
Gore's favor was continuing. "Gore's advantage in critical battlegrounds has
grown enormously and is continuing to grow," he said. "I think it's a different
world coming out of the convention. The race is much more settled. Voters have a
much more serious take on the race." But, he conceded, "It's a long way from
Before the conventions, it was the Bush campaign claiming
a lead and the Gore campaign maintaining that there was essentially a dead heat
in the contest for the 270 electoral votes that make a majority of the 538 to be
For now, the vice president appears safe in 10 states, with 142
electoral votes, including California, New York and now Connecticut. Eight
others, with 97 electoral votes, are leaning his way, with such additions as
Washington and Iowa.
If all those states stayed in Mr. Gore's column, he
would have 239 electoral votes, and to win he would need to find 31 others from
10 tossup states with 98 electoral votes.
Governor Bush holds commanding
leads in 17 states, but only 3 of them, Indiana, Texas and Virginia, have more
than 10 electoral votes. The 17 have a total of 132 votes. Six more states, with
69 electoral votes, lean his way, though the margins in some, like Ohio and
Colorado, have slipped.
If Mr. Bush held those 23 states, he would have
201 electoral votes. So to win, he would need 69 of the 98 votes from those 10
The financial advantage held by the Republican National
Committee over its Democratic counterpart could help him win the tossup states.
In some of those states, even ones Democrats think they can win, Democrats are
not yet advertising on television. And while the Republican margins are narrow
in many states, in some others they are huge. For example, this week's Florida
spending showed $1,026,000 backing Mr. Bush and $330,000 on Mr. Gore's
But even as the campaigns put differing emphases on different
states as they seek 270 electoral votes, their fortunes in the states are hardly
independent of the national trends that have favored Mr. Gore in recent weeks.
These include his growing strength in how voters perceive his personal qualities
and a deepening advantage over his signature health care issues.
Petrocik, chairman of the political science department at the University of
Missouri in Columbia, said he thought Mr. Bush's lead in Missouri had declined
because "a large component of how you are doing in every given state is how
you're doing nationally."
"What determines whether he carries Missouri
does not just happen in Missouri," Mr. Petrocik said.
One national hazard
for the Republicans is the recent, and perhaps exaggerated, sense that Mr. Bush
is in trouble. When Republican strategists say of the Bush campaign, as one did
this week, "They have to almost draw a royal straight flush to win — almost,"
then followers may get discouraged, too.
Ed Sarpolus, a Michigan
pollster, said one reason for Mr. Bush's decline in that state, and elsewhere in
the Midwest, was a growing number of Republicans' "losing confidence in George
In The Detroit Free Press today, a poll he conducted reported a
Gore lead of 45 percent to 37 percent for Mr. Bush. Another factor in Mr. Gore's
gains in Michigan has been a sharp drop in support for Ralph Nader of the Green
But in several important states, Republicans were optimistic that
a new emphasis on voter turnout would pull them through. Al Cardenas, chairman
of the Florida Republican Party, said his state was a tossup. "I didn't feel
that way a few months ago," Mr. Cardenas said. And though he said the state
could go either way, he argued that the Republicans' advantage lay in "a much
better ground operation, a much more comprehensive ground attack in terms of our
phone banks and absentee ballots."
In Wisconsin, Rod Hise, executive
director of the State Republican Party, insisted that party members "haven't
been as excited, enthusiastic and energetic as they are about this one for a
very long time."
"The opportunity that Republicans in Wisconsin have to
contribute to a Bush victory in November has really electrified the grass roots
of our party here," Mr. Hise said. "The foot soldiers are ready for battle. That
is a dynamic that has not always been the case."
But if Mr. Hise was
encouraged, so was Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. Mr.
Feingold said, "This surge since the convention has really got me far more
"We've made up enormous ground," he said. Agreeing with Mr.
Hise that the race was even in Wisconsin, Mr. Feingold argued that Mr. Gore had
come through much better as a person, and was helped by health care issues and
his emphasis on Social Security over tax cuts — positions "clearly in tune with
Two battleground states that appear to have shifted
sharply are New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Although Chuck Haytaian, the Republican
state chairman in New Jersey, predicted a narrow Bush victory "by 25,000 votes,"
an independent pollster, Cliff Zukin of Rutgers University, said he thought the
state was leaning strongly to Mr. Gore.
Mr. Zukin, director of the Star-
Ledger Eagleton Rutgers poll, said that at the Democratic National Convention
and later, Mr. Gore "was sounding populist themes which resonate well in New
In Pennsylvania, it may have been the Republican convention that
hurt more, with the rejection of the state's governor, Tom Ridge, highlighted as
an anti-abortion decision by Mr. Bush. Two recent polls have shown Mr. Gore with
a double-digit lead.
Ohio remains a battleground state where Mr. Bush is
apparently still ahead. Most polls give Mr. Bush leads of two to six percentage
points. Eric Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati's Ohio
Poll, said, "I think right now it's fairly safe to say the race is somewhere
between a tossup and lean Bush."
Though much attention in the
presidential race has been paid to the battles for large electoral-jackpot
states like Florida and Michigan, the candidates have not ignored the rest of
the country. Following are examinations of the status of the campaign in several
states where the race is considered close.
In the Northwest, Nader Could
Though voters in Oregon and Washington State rejected Mr.
Bush's father in both 1988 and 1992 and gave President Clinton a wide margin of
victory four years ago, the Texas governor has repeatedly said he expects the
Pacific Northwest to be highly competitive.
The latest polls agree,
showing Mr. Bush barely behind Mr. Gore in Washington and essentially even with
him in Oregon.
Mr. Bush has made repeated visits to the Northwest, most
recently last week, in which he criticized Mr. Gore's environmental record but
also reiterated his staunch opposition to proposals to help salmon runs by
breaching dams in eastern Washington. Such proposals are favored by many
environmentalists but are anathema in many communities in the affected region.
Mr. Bush could be helped by a variety of factors, one of which is the
strong popularity in some Northwestern cities of Mr. Nader, who drew 10,000
people to a rally in Portland, Ore., recently and who, most analysts say, draws
many more left- leaning voters from Mr. Gore than he does from Mr.
In Washington State, Mr. Bush could be helped by a strong turnout
for Mr. Nader, by his stand on dams that could energize a vote in parts of
eastern Washington, and perhaps even by lingering resentment in the home state
of Microsoft to the federal government's antitrust case against the software
A poll of 500 Washington voters taken for KING-TV in Seattle last
week indicated that Mr. Gore was at 45 percent, Mr. Bush at 41 percent, Mr.
Nader at 5 percent and Patrick J. Buchanan of the Reform Party at 1 percent,
with the rest undecided. The survey had a margin of sampling error of 4
A separate Washington State survey by Moore
Information of Portland, which has polled for many Republican candidates in the
region, found Mr. Gore at 44 percent, Mr. Bush at 43 percent and Mr. Nader at 4
That poll also was of 500 voters, with a margin of sampling
error of 4 percentage points. But a Democratic pollster, Mark Mellman,
conducting a regular tracking survey of 200 voters for an upcoming United States
Senate primary, found Mr. Gore in the lead by roughly 10 points.
Oregon, a poll taken this week for The Oregonian and KATU-TV showed Mr. Nader at
8 percent, leaving Mr. Gore with 42 percent, virtually tied with Mr. Bush at 41
percent. About 8 percent of those surveyed were undecided, and the support for
Mr. Buchanan was negligible.