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Jewish World Review May 18, 2000 /13 Iyar, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Gore should regroup -- IT'S APPARENT that the default position of American voters is to put Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the White House. Vice President Al Gore could alter the program, but he isn't doing it yet.

The latest evidence came last week from the bipartisan Battleground, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post/ABC News polls, showing Bush leading Gore by 6, 8 and 5 points, respectively.

In January, before the presidential primaries, Bush was leading in the Battleground poll by 16 points, and his average lead in 15 other national polls was 11 points, according to a tabulation by the American Enterprise Institute.

In March, as the primary season was ending, Battleground showed Bush's lead down to 4 points, and Bush's average lead in 14 other polls was just 1 point. In four of the polls, including the Post's, Gore actually led by as much as 6 points.

Since March, though, Bush has widened his lead in practically every survey, as the three polls show. Among those most likely to vote, Battleground shows Bush's lead at 8 points.

Moreover, most polls show that Bush has regained a small lead among women -- a group President Clinton carried by 16 percent in 1996. He now has a whopping lead of 14 points among married women in the L.A. Times poll and 19 in Battleground.

In the Times poll, Bush leads by 16 points among independents, half of whom find Gore too liberal, and the Battleground survey found that Bush carries Reagan Democrats by 14 points.

And Battleground found that 56 percent of voters have a favorable attitude toward Bush to 35 percent unfavorable -- a 21-point difference -- indicating that Gore's incessant attacks have not been working. Gore gets a 50-42 favorable-unfavorable rating.

Even though Gore is in much better shape than he was six months ago, when he decisively shook up his campaign to meet the challenge of ex-Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., the polls suggest there is still something essentially wrong with Gore's appeal.

One moderate Democratic analyst said "to begin with, Al Gore is not gifted in his ability to connect with voters. On top of that, his message consists of focus-group-tested bromides that just reinforce his image as a political calculating machine.

"His campaign seems to consist of just two things -- attacking Bush and protecting the priorities of old Democratic constituencies. In the process, he's turning off all the swing constituencies that Bill Clinton enticed into the Democratic fold," this critic said. "I'd say there needs to be some strategic reassessment."

To be fair, Gore has departed from Democratic orthodoxy on education within the past week, delivering a speech to the Michigan Education Association in which he called for tough new accountability standards and merit pay for teachers.

However, on Medicare and Social Security, Gore insists on defending the existing structure of the entitlement programs, merely adding more money instead of calling for fundamental reform.

Gore has sought to inject some fun into his campaign in the past week -- at a majority-Latino school in California and before the Anti-Defamation League -- but mainly his speeches are heavy-handed assaults on Bush.

Part of his strategic reassessment, if one occurs, should involve making himself into a "happy warrior" who fights his foes with ridicule and humor, not just charges of "recklessness" and "irresponsibility."

To define himself as a centrist, Gore would do well to pick a New Democrat as his vice presidential running mate, someone like Sens. Evan Bayh, Ind., Joe Lieberman, Conn., or Bob Graham, Fla. or Gov. Gray Davis of California.

The choice of Lieberman or Graham would be complicated, though, by the fact that the governors of their states are Republicans, and Senate Democrats would lose a seat. The same problem applies to liberal Sen. Richard Durbin, Ill.

Perhaps hardest of all, Gore needs to figure out how to define and handle the "moral" issue that's causing 49 percent of voters to say the country is "on the wrong track" compared to 39 percent who say it's "going in the right direction," according to Battleground.

The survey found that 62 percent of voters disapprove of Clinton as a person, compared to 29 percent who approve of him. There's probably more than that causing concern about moral decline -- a factor that decisively favors Bush.

Gore aides insist, despite the numbers, that all's well with their game plan -- that the Veep is running well in key states and that the flaws in Bush's program eventually will be obvious to an electorate that isn't paying attention yet.

Maybe so, but Gore surely should be looking for ways to cause people to vote for him, not just against Bush. Right now, that's not their natural inclination.

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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04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
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
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
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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