Bush takes a beating

The Republican sinks in new polls, struggles in swing states. Will his "Blueprint" put him back in the pink? Alec Baldwin says he's out if Bush is in.



Alicia Montgomery
September 18, 2000 10:30PM (UTC)

George W. Bush used to be considered a shoo-in for the White House, but new polls suggest that his campaign is standing on shaky ground. Newsweek reports that Al Gore is steadily building on the lead he gained after the Democratic Convention. According to this survey, the vice president now has the support of 50 percent of registered voters, compared with 38 percent for Bush, with a four-point margin of error. Among the demographic groups firmly in Gore's corner are women, minorities and seniors. Bush still leads in the battle for male voters, but by a slim 44 percent to 41 percent margin. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll adds to the Bush bad-news bonanza, with Gore leading Bush 49 percent to 41 percent. The Green Party's Ralph Nader holds steady at 3 percent, and the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan remains at 1 percent. But Bush shouldn't be too disheartened by this poll. Its four-point margin of error means that Gore's advantage is statistically insignificant.

Swingers lean toward Gore
As the presidential race hits the homestretch, popularity polls won't mean nearly as much as the state-to-state picture. But that still won't give Bush much relief. The Associated Press reports that a swing-state survey shows Gore with a lead in Michigan and double-digit bulges in Illinois and Pennsylvania. The only good news Michigan polling firm EPIC-MRA had for Bush was that he's neck and neck with Gore in Ohio. The vice president is up in Michigan 45 to 37 percent, still a statistical dead heat when considering the four-point margin of error. And Gore leads in Illinois 48 to 33 percent, and is ahead 51 to 33 percent in Pennsylvania, which hosted the Republican Convention this year. The margin of error in the Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania polls is five points.

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A sunshine state of mind
Bush's battles in the heartland make it all the more important for him to secure friendlier territories. As a consequence, the Texas governor is stepping up his Florida effort, according to the Miami Herald. Bush has found Gore surprisingly competitive in the state in light of its traditional Republican tilt, a Bush brother (Jeb) sitting in the governor's mansion and Gore's continual stumbles earlier this year in the Elian Gonzalez drama. "Florida is clearly a battleground state," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "It's a state we intend to win, but a battleground." The Republican hopeful will end his weeklong, nine-state tour in Florida on Friday.

Dubya death spiral?
The Texas governor hasn't made any big mistakes in the past several weeks, but little things mean a lot, according to CBS News. The drumbeat of bad news for Bush, even when made up of minor miscues like his holdout on debates and the Republicans' "rats" ad, could lead the candidate to lose his focus. "In the long run, voters won't vote according to any of these ... silly distractions," said Republican strategist Dan Schnur, formerly John McCain's communications chief. "But it's time taken away from a candidate's ability to get his message out." And it's not just new vulnerabilities that get caught in the media feeding frenzy. Bush has also been cited recently for long-standing weaknesses that used to escape press scrutiny, such as his frequent verbal stumbles and his lack of specificity. "He talked funny at the beginning of the campaign," said Stephen Wayne, a Georgetown University political scientist, "but it wasn't an issue before. He's the same guy." Though there's disagreement about possible solutions to Bush campaign malaise, everyone agrees that the candidate needs to get on the comeback trail fast. Said political analyst Larry Sabato, "He has run out of days to screw up."

Running down the middle of the road
Bush hopes to regain the momentum with his "Blueprint for the Middle Class," the New York Times reports. The oversize pamphlet, detailing the Texas governor's ideas about everything from healthcare to education, will be passed around at Bush rallies and campaign stops throughout the week. While Republicans believe the plan will diminish criticism that Bush is vague on policy, those in the Gore camp say the "Blueprint" just proves that Bush is a lightweight. While the vice president's "Prosperity for America's Families" economic proposal has 191 pages and no illustrations, the Bush booklet has just 16 pages -- with six pictures.

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Entertainer exodus
Alec Baldwin may still be in pictures, but he won't be in America in the event of a Bush win. The Associated Press reports that Baldwin has pledged to quit this country if the Texas governor moves into the White House. According to his wife, Kim Basinger, Baldwin isn't being overly dramatic with that declaration. "I can very well imagine that Alec makes good on his threat," Basinger told Focus magazine. "And then I'd probably have to go too." They'd join critically acclaimed director Robert Altman, who has also promised he'll walk the expat plank in the event of a Bush victory.

On the trail
Buchanan: South Carolina.
Bush: Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.
Gore: Nevada.
Nader: To be announced.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

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  • Gore 49 to Bush 41 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 14-16).
  • Gore 50 to Bush 38 (Newsweek Sept. 14-15).
  • Gore 46 to Bush 39 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 10-12).
  • Gore 42 to Bush 39 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 9-11).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 42 (NBC/Wall Street Journal Sept. 7-10).
  • Gore 47 to Bush 47 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 4-6).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 14-16).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Voter.com Sept.10-13)
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 10-12).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 9-11).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (NBC/Wall Street Journal Sept. 7-10).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 4-6).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Newsweek Aug. 30-31).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

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

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