Pro-GOP ad prompts racism charge

Gore gets likable, little states get big attention and Oprah gets Bush.



Alicia Montgomery
September 19, 2000 4:01PM (UTC)

After the "rats" ad fiasco, the Republicans have learned that not every attention-getting commercial is a winner. But it seems that some of their allies have not gotten the memo. The Washington Post reports that the Republican Ideas Political Committee, a little-known group with no official tie to GOP organizations, has drawn charges of race baiting with an ad currently running in Kansas City, Mo. In the commercial, a white actress talks about pulling her son Ralph out of his public school, where he had taken up with "the wrong crowd." "We didn't want him in a place where drugs and violence were fashionable," she says. "That was a bit more diversity than he could handle." At that point, the screen shows a white youngster pulling out a gun on a racially mixed group of students. Then a message flashes: "Vote Republican."

The "Ralph" ad has drawn fire from the left and denials from the right. "We're glad we didn't have anything to do with the ad," said Daryl Duwe, a spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party. Political analysts say that this and other disconnects between the parties and their allies will become more prevalent as interest groups unveil more "issue ads." Unlike parties, independent and single-issue organizations court controversy to get on the political map. "Small groups with limited budgets are on to the game [of issue ads], which is a new way to do politics," said David Magleby, an expert on political ads at Brigham Young Unversity. "They want to get attention from news people that goes far beyond what they could pay for."

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Voters like Gore more
Unlike some special-interest groups, George W. Bush has staked a big part of his political fortunes on being liked. Now one survey indicates he's beginning to lose the image war to Al Gore. According to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 61 percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Gore, compared with only 52 percent who have a favorable view of Bush. It's the first time this year the vice president has shown an advantage in this category. As for voting preferences, the survey shows Gore with 48 percent support to Bush's 43 percent. Numbers for the Green Party's Ralph Nader and the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan remain unchanged at 3 and 1 percent, respectively. The survey has a four-point margin of error.

Electoral race tightens
The popular vote won't get anybody into the White House; the candidates will have to secure enough Electoral College support to win that. Reuters reports that a new survey shows that the vice president has pulled ahead of Bush in the crucial state-to-state tally. "Gore is in the lead but it's not by any means solid," said Peter Steinberger, a political scientist at Oregon's Reed College. "There are eight to 10 big states out there that he has to win and he's not there yet." In several recent presidential races, the Electoral College vote has not been particularly close. For example, President Clinton defeated Bob Dole by winning 379 electoral votes out of a possible 538, a total that far exceeded the necessary 270 votes required for victory. This year, however, several polls indicate that both candidates are hovering above the 200-vote mark, leaving about 100 electoral ballots up for grabs.

Little states get big attention
With the electoral vote so close, the candidates are working hard to secure even the smaller prizes, according to USA Today. Gore and Bush have been battling over traditionally second-tier states such as New Mexico, Oregon, Arkansas and Maine, visiting the states themselves and sending in their running mates to mark the territory. Citizens in these new candidate magnets are pleased with the change. "The fact that they have come here at all makes it more than what presidential candidates usually do," said Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine. But not every little state is getting courted so heavily. As usual, the more faithful a state has been to the opposing party, the less concerned the Bush and Gore camps seem to be about stopping by. This election, that has been the fate of Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maryland, which lean heavily to Gore, and of South Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah and Nebraska, which are more loyal to Bush.

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Chasing women on "Oprah"
Forget tax cuts and education plans. Gore and Bush know that one way to a woman's vote is through Oprah Winfrey's studio. The Associated Press reports that, a week after his opponent spent an hour chatting with the talk show queen, Bush will take his turn on Tuesday. "The governor's looking forward to it," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Oprah's always a very important opportunity to connect with a lot of viewers, mostly women." Though she has kept her show politician-free prior to this year's race, there's one clue about which side of the fence Oprah is on: She has given $12,000 to Democratic candidates since 1992. But Oprah's representatives say that she'll show no bias in the Bush interview. According to Audrey Pass, a spokeswoman for her production company, "Oprah's not giving any indication of her preference."

On the trail
Buchanan: Michigan.
Bush: Illinois, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
Gore: California.
Nader: Washington.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

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  • Gore 48 to Bush 43 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 15-17).
  • 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 (CNN/USA Today/Gallup Sept. 15-17).
  • 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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