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Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2000 /20 Shevat, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey? -- SIX MONTHS AGO, only a die-hard Democrat would have bet money on Vice President Al Gore ever being president. Now, the odds are still against it -- but it's entirely believable.

The latest bipartisan Battleground 2000 survey shows Gore running 13 points behind Texas Gov. George W. Bush , but two recent Time and Newsweek polls have put Bush's lead in single digits.

Gore still has to win the Democratic nomination, of course, but he has solidified his base among Democratic regulars and has succeeded in getting under rival Bill Bradley's skin to the point that the former New Jersey Democratic senator is losing his appeal as a high-minded, independent thinker.

Gore figures to win big in the Iowa caucuses tonight, and tracking polls are beginning to show him beating Bradley in New Hampshire, too -- by 6 points in the latest American Research Group track.

The latest Quinnipiac College poll shows Gore leading by 47 to 39 percent in New York, and Gore also is leading in California -- two states that are "must wins" for Bradley if he is to have any chance of beating Gore.

How did Gore turn it around? Instead of being a "bore," he made himself into a "fighter." And he converted Bradley from a big-ideas Mr. Clean into an elitist "intellectual."

Of course, Bradley helped the process by being too high-minded to answer simple questions about himself, such as which books he likes.

Bradley also began to look like an ordinary pol after he took late shots at Gore for raising the Willie Horton issue in the 1988 Democratic primaries against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and for advocating tobacco subsidies as a Tennessee senator.

Bradley's own 1996 book, "Time Present, Time Past" specifically exonerates Gore from charges of "racializing" the Horton issue.

Gore's handling of Bradley offers some indication of how he might take on Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee: harshly.

Gore is coming on -- and from behind -- like Harry S. Truman did in 1948, and, by the time Gore is done with him, Bush may bear a resemblance to Truman's opponent, New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey .

Gore adviser Bob Shrum derisively says he doesn't buy the analogy because "Thomas E. Dewey knew what he was talking about. I assume Bush is smart, but he doesn't seem to want to be bothered to learn what he should."

In 1948, Dewey thought he could rely on "scandal fatigue" and "time for a change" sentiment after Democrats had held the White House for 16 years.

Dewey tried to run a syrupy campaign, but Truman both defended the achievements of the Roosevelt/Truman years and attacked the Republican Congress.

The parallels are far from exact, but Gore has going for him the fact that Americans believe the country is on the right track.

He has to figure out how to make people -- especially women -- fear that they will lose what they have if Bush is elected. Women normally favor Democrats but prefer Gore by only 3 points in the Battleground survey. Bush has a 25-point edge among men.

Scare tactics could work. Bush favors a tax cut that is bigger than the anticipated 10-year budget surplus if spending isn't frozen, risking renewed deficits. Bush also favors partial privatizing of Social Security and market reform of Medicare.

Such proposals may have merit, but Bush has not begun to make a case for them. Since they represent substantial changes in the status quo, Gore can make them seem dangerous.

Right now, the Battleground survey shows Bush is not in bad shape on many issues that normally favor Democrats by wide margins.

Voters trust him as much as Gore to protect Social Security. They prefer him by 49 to 34 percent to "keep America prosperous" and prefer Gore by only 42 to 40 percent on improving education.

Gore will have to try to change people's perceptions of Bush on those issues and also press home the issues on which he leads, such as improving health care, where he's ahead 45 to 37 percent, as well as strengthening Medicare, 46 to 36 percent.

Possibly the biggest news in the Battleground survey, conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake, is how strong Bush is with normally Democratic Hispanics.

On a generic congressional question, Hispanics go Democratic by 46 to 35 percent. But they prefer Bush by 47 to 36 percent over Gore -- chiefly, one presumes, because the governor has a rapport with Mexican-Americans in Texas and tries to speak Spanish.

But Gore can be expected to shake that support by playing up poverty and pollution in the counties along Texas' Rio Grande Valley -- which, if it were a state, would be America's poorest, Democrats allege.

One reason why it's uphill for Gore is that his overall favorability rating is just barely positive, 47 to 43 percent, while Bush's is 62 to 29 percent.

Can Gore turn all this around? Well, he's certainly stronger than he was. And, look what Harry Truman did when he was fighting like hell.

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


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09/15/99: Bush's education problem
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09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
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
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
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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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