Gore gets pounded in polls

White men flock to Bush while the women's vote splits. Death penalty doubts plague Texas, and undecided voters leave Giuliani behind.

Published May 12, 2000 11:00AM (EDT)

Al Gore's support slipped in an array of polls released this week. An ABC News/Washington Post poll indicates that Gore trails George W. Bush 49 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. Though it's a slim difference, especially considering the survey's three-point margin of error, the numbers show Bush recovering the advantage he held over Gore before the end of the primaries. The "Battleground" poll by nonpartisan Web site Voter.com has Gore trailing Bush 48 percent to 42 percent (with a three-point margin of error). The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press shows the candidates in a statistical dead heat, with Bush at 46 percent and Gore at 45 percent, but that represents close to a five-point swing in Bush's favor since March.

Gore's female trouble

The vice president can't count on women voters to boost him beyond Bush, the Associated Press reports. Both the Battleground poll and an earlier Los Angeles Times survey show that the Texas governor has effectively erased the gender gap. "Women voters in particular are more negative about the direction of the country," an issue that works in Bush's favor, according to Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster with Voter.com. Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist from the University of Texas, agrees that voters who want change want Bush. "Even though the economy is good, among key groups like independent voters there is an element of wanting to move toward change, but in a safe way," he said. "And the governor looks acceptable."

White men jump to Bush

The Washington Post reports that the real "gender gap" is among white men, with Gore losing that group by an overwhelming margin of 23 points. Though Gore has tried to position himself as a moderate in a race against an extreme conservative, one Democrat strategist advising the Gore campaign thinks that white men see the vice president as something else: "A fairly significant plurality think of Gore as a liberal," he said.

A liberal and, perhaps, a wimp. Several white men who once voted for President Clinton just don't think Gore has what it takes to run the country. Byron Keaton, who supported Clinton until the Monica Lewinsky scandal, sees Gore as a beta male. "Clinton is his own guy. He's got a lot of leadership ability," Keaton said. Gore "is a good man and all, but as far as a leader, I wouldn't vote for him. I've never seen Gore do anything on his own." Roger Johnson, a store manager, concurs. "I think Gore's an honest person, I really do," he said. "I just don't think he's got a whole lot of backbone."

With men, Gore's gun control backfires

The vice president has made gun control, and Bush's relationship with the National Rifle Association, a major feature of his campaign. But Los Angeles Times political analyst Ronald Brownstein writes that Gore may be shooting himself in the foot with male voters. He notes that Americans remain ambivalent about new gun laws and that Gore ignores that at his peril. "The public has planted one foot firmly in each camp," asserts Brownstein, "supporting arguments from gun control advocates in favor of new restrictions even while expressing sympathy for the National Rifle Assn.'s case that enforcement of existing laws may be more effective than passing new ones." Gore's hardcore anti-gun stance also may hurt him in some battleground states where hunting and guns are more accepted than they are in more suburban communities. Brownstein concludes, "The open question is whether Bush will try to use Gore's support for additional gun restrictions -- particularly the licensing of gun owners -- against him."

Bush overkill on capital punishment?

Bush's tough-on-crime reputation may yet come back to haunt him. According to a report by the Washington Post, Texas under Bush has been so pro-execution that legal corners have been cut, and some innocent people may have ended up on death row or dead. Among the troubling trends in Texas are low standards for public defenders in capital cases, judicial reluctance to hold those lawyers accountable and unreasonable standards set by courts in death penalty appeals. In one case, while acknowledging "ineffective assistance of counsel" for a man whose attorney slept through the trial, state prosecutors persisted in letting the execution go forward.

Fence sitters close the gate on Rudy

After announcing his separation at an emotionally wrenching press conference earlier in the week, New York Senate hopeful Rudy Giuliani has apparently returned to his normal feisty self. But undecided voters may be turning away from him. The New York Times discovered that, among its panel of previously uncommitted New Yorkers, the mayor's marital mess has pushed most into the arms of Hillary Rodham Clinton. "What planet does he come from?" demanded Buffalo's Charlene Clinton in response to Giuliani's behavior. "Leching around with all these different people -- that's too much scandal for me." Doug Taggart of Manhattan condemned Giuliani's "lack of relationship management skills," saying, "He didn't even take the time to call her and say 'we need to talk.'" For another voter, the press conference confirmed his suspicions that Giuliani is prone to kicking people when they are down. "He's abrasive, as we all know," said Thomas Beck, a Long Island guidance counselor. "He's callous in many ways. He looks down on the downtrodden of New York," Beck continued. "It's one thing after another with this guy. I tried to overlook a lot of things. But I'm x-ing him out now, I really am."

Hillary takes the high ground

In more bad news for Giuliani, Hillary Clinton's silence-and-sympathy response to his marital woes is earning praise, reports the New York Post. On NBC's "Today" show, the first lady absolutely refused to comment on Giuliani's separation announcement or his wife's bitter response. "Out of respect for them, we should just leave them alone and let them do what is best for them," Clinton said. That, along with her pledge never to bring up Giuliani's personal life in the campaign, drew two rounds of applause from the Democrats, Republicans and independents in the audience.

Thank you for not sharing

The circumstances leading to the public collapse of Giuliani's marriage are more than Marjorie Williams wants to know. In a Washington Post Op-Ed column, Williams writes, "Don't you just hate it when, one day, politicians are admonishing us that their personal lives fall within the precious 'zone of privacy,' and then the next day they're telling us all about their sex lives?" Not only did Giuliani's press conference bother Williams, she believes his wife's response brought the public way too far into the mayoral bedroom. In particular, Donna Hanover's statement that she and the mayor had "reestablished some of our personal intimacy through the fall" prompted Williams to reply: "Yuck and double-yuck! Tell us no more!"

She should take comfort in New York Times columnist Gail Collins' declaration that "the era of sharing, it seems, is over." Collins writes that the Giuliani mess proves the limits of voters' tolerance for personal missteps, and that the picture of his tearful, distraught wife killed any chance Giuliani had for gaining public support. "If we accept Clinton-era conventional wisdom and assume that a male politician's ability to survive a sex scandal depends on the wife's willingness to impersonate a good sport," Collins asserts, "Rudy Giuliani has a problem."

Poll positions

Presidential race (previous):

  • Bush 49 to Gore 44 (ABC News/Washington Post May 7 to 10)

  • Bush 51 to Gore 43 (Los Angeles Times May 4-7).

  • Bush 46 to Gore 45 (Pew Center May 2-6).

  • Bush 48 to Gore 42 (Voter.com May 1 - 3).

  • Bush 46 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1).

  • Bush 49 to Gore 44 (Gallup/CNN/USA Today April 28-30).

  • Bush 47 to Gore 38 (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll April 26-27).

  • Bush 43 to Gore 41 (CBS News April 15-17).

  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (Newsweek April 13-14).

    Vice presidential preferences (previous):

    Preferences for Republican vice presidential candidate among Republican voters (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1):

  • Colin Powell, 39 percent
  • Elizabeth Dole, 19 percent
  • John McCain, 18 percent
  • Christine Todd Whitman, 5 percent
  • Fred Thompson, 6 percent
  • John Kaisch, 4 percent
  • Tom Ridge, 3 percent
  • Other, 1 percent
  • Not sure, 5 percent

    Preferences for Democratic vice presidential candidate among all voters (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll March 22-23):

  • Bill Bradley, 27 percent
  • Dianne Feinstein, 10 percent
  • Bob Kerrey, 6 percent
  • Bob Graham, 5 percent
  • John Kerry, 4 percent
  • Bill Richardson, 4 percent
  • Evan Bayh, 3 percent
  • Other, 6 percent
  • Not sure, 35 percent

    New York Senate:

  • Clinton 46 to Giuliani 44 (Quinnipiac College April 24-30).

  • Clinton 43 to Giuliani 43 (Zogby April 28-29).

  • Clinton 52 to Giuliani 42 (New York Times/CBS News April 1-5).

  • Giuliani 46 to Clinton 43 (Marist Institute March 27-28).

    On the trail

    Bush: Texas.

    Gore: Oregon.

    Talking heads

    (All guests tentative and all EST)

  • C-Span's "Washington Journal":

    7 a.m. -- Open phones with morning newspaper articles and a telephone interview with Jack Hitt, contributor, Mother Jones.

    8:15 a.m. -- Thomas DeFrank, Washington bureau chief, New York Daily News.

    9 a.m. -- Open phones.

    9:15 a.m. -- James Billington, librarian of Congress.

    Watch "Washington Journal" on the Web.

    Sound off

    E-mail Trail Mix with your comments, suggestions and tips at alicia@salon.com.

  • By Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

    MORE FROM Alicia Montgomery

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