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Analysis: Cliffhanging Election Down to the Wire

Sunday, 05 November 2000 12:00 AM

As the U.S. presidential election race surged down to the wire, the Republican candidate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, still held, as he had over the previous week, a lead in most polls. It ranged from sufficient for a significant victory – 5 percentage points or over – to too close to call – 1 to 2 percentage points.

Bush appeared to have lost some crucial ground among the still-undecided swing voters, who will swing this election, following the revelation last week that he was briefly arrested in his 20s on a drunk driving charge. But polls up to the weekend indicated that the issue did not appear to have the power to fully reverse his small but steady surge in the previous week.

If Bush can hold his 3- to 5-percentage-point lead and Gore suffers a sustained defection of 5 percentage points of his own vote to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, the Republican standard-bearer will win, and possibly even decisively, if he can swing giant California into his column.

Gore fought back to regain the lead in Tennessee, which he has represented in Congress for nearly a quarter of a century. Bush fought back in Florida, where his brother, Jeb, is governor. Both men had long assumed they had those states sewn up.

The big industrial swing states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan remained up for grabs.

Like once handsome, glittering knights on white chargers reduced after a long joust to grappling with each other in the mud, both candidates were tired after the long campaign and found themselves making embarrassing slips.

Bush had to combat probing questions about why he had not admitted a year ago his youthful "driving under the influence" arrest. His refusal to do so then raised widespread suspicions that he was covering up a lot more from his past.

A gravel-voiced Gore arrived an hour late at a rally in West Virginia on Saturday. Some of the crowd had drifted off by then. Publicity that he was slighting his supporters was the last thing he needed.

Lady Luck was playing no favorites between the two contenders.

Bush was lucky that Nader was still running so strongly and so credibly after massive Democratic National Committee efforts to prevent him having any serious platform on which to present himself.

Nader still looked good Sunday to take 5 percent of the vote nationally and possibly even more in crucial California. In such a close race, that could well prove decisive.

Bush was also lucky that Pat Buchanan, whom he had once risked crucial center voters to placate, had bolted the party to run as another outsider. Buchanan's reform candidacy looked like an utter fiasco, with polls everywhere giving him less than 1 percent of the votes. This guaranteed that he could not cripple Bush the way Nader threatened to cripple Gore.

An increasingly anxious Gore in the final days of the campaign fell back on his three aces – blacks, pensioners and unions.

African-American leaders rallied to try and mobilize their traditionally activist, politically engaged and high-turnout community. The problem was that neither Gore nor his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, had an impressive record on issues of concern to African-Americans, unlike President Clinton.

Pensioners, the 70-something and 80-something survivors of the GI, or "Government Issue," generation, were raised on the promise of Social Security when it was passed back in 1935. Now, they looked likely to rally around Gore to save it from Bush's proposed reforms.

If Gore can still pull off a razor-edge upset by taking Florida, the hundreds of thousands of retirees rallying to his support there will be the decisive swing factor.

But in the Midwest, the main battleground where pundits were virtually united that the election would be decided, Gore's greatest ace, and his trump to counter Nader, was the revived muscle of organized labor.

The AFL-CIO, the federation of U.S. trade unions, and the giant 1.5-million-member Teamsters Union, were both in his camp and hustling hard to push their vote out.

In an election marked by widespread apathy, cynicism and expected low voter turnout, the impact of these activist groups looked likely to be more important than in at least a quarter of a century, since the Gerald Ford-Jimmy Carter race of 1976.

As the Book of Ecclesiastes teaches, this political battle is not going to be decided by the swift or the strong, but by those who bother to turn up to cast their votes. And as Ecclesiastes predicts, Time and Chance look certain to happen to them all.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

Race is tight. You can help Bush in last-ditch effort to get out the vote.

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As the U.S. presidential election race surged down to the wire, the Republican candidate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, still held, as he had over the previous week, a lead in most polls. It ranged from sufficient for a significant victory - 5 percentage points or over - to...
Sunday, 05 November 2000 12:00 AM
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