Bush and Gore dead even

Nader's raiders get thrown in jail, and McCain burns Bush on campaign finance reform. Lazio and Clinton stay soft on their pledge, and Martin Sheen shoots off his mouth.

By Alicia Montgomery
September 29, 2000 4:04PM (UTC)
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After George W. Bush enjoyed a rebound week in the polls, his bump shows signs of leveling off. According to the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey Bush and rival Al Gore are now locked at 46 percent each, with a four-point margin of error. Green Party hopeful Ralph Nader has made a minor comeback, reaching 3 percent in the poll after slipping to 1 percent last week. Pat Buchanan has languished at the 1 percent level in this survey for some time.

Despite Bush's Oprah moment, Gore is still the overwhelming choice of the women surveyed, winning the female vote 53 to 38 percent. But the gender gap is not a one-way street. Men chose Bush by a margin of 53 to 39 percent. Most other demographic categories remain highly competitive.


Put your money where your mouth is
Bush and Gore say that they're still fighting for every vote in every state. But dollars don't lie: USA Today reports that candidate spending and stated campaign goals prove that the election battleground is shrinking fast. Ad buys and other expenses are being concentrated in just a few key states, such as Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and Missouri. No matter what Bush claims, the numbers indicate he has already put Illinois in the Gore column. Last month, the Texas governor's campaign spent more than $250,000 in the state in a single week. Last week, the amount had dropped to $6,000. The vice president's campaign happily matched the move, cutting its Illinois spending to less than $10,000 over the same period.

Gore's intentions in the Sunshine State are a bit cloudy. Though he has spent $2 million and a lot of time in Florida, his campaign doesn't list that state as one of its hot spots. That omission suggests that Gore wants to make Florida just competitive enough that the GOP will dump money there to keep what it had once believed was a safe state. If that's the aim, the $5.8 million the Republicans have spent in Florida suggests the tactic is working.

Rebel without a chance
It's not whether you win or lose but how much press you get. That's the unfortunate fate that the Reform Party and Buchanan have been consigned to as a consequence of, among other things, their endless squabbling. The Chicago Tribune reports that Buchanan is still enjoying his Quixotic run, traveling and making trouble in Michigan, and relishing his triumph over opposing forces in the Reform camp. "Perot's gone, Ventura's gone, Lenora's gone. We've survived," he said. "I'm the last guy on the island of the Reform Party." After being sidelined by gallbladder surgery, Buchanan is making up for lost time on the trail, but still languishes at about 1 percent in most public opinion polls. A rhetorical star, Buchanan feels that his best chance at a late rally would be to share the debate stage with Bush and Gore. "That would get us media attention," he said. "It would double my vote."


The thin green line
While Buchanan took his debate complaint to the heartland, Nader's supporters took it to the streets. The Washington Post reports that police made eight arrests at a daylong demonstration in Washington aimed at getting the Green Party hopeful into the presidential debates. Protesters angered by his exclusion have been targeting the headquarters of the Commission on Presidential Debates for weeks, but Thursday brought the first arrests. The CPD has drawn fire from Nader and Buchanan supporters for refusing to let their candidates participate in the October contests.

Shame on you!
Campaign finance reform, a cornerstone of the race's third-party challenges, was first brought to this election by former candidate Sen. John McCain. Though he's allegedly supporting Bush now, McCain has given the GOP another reason to doubt his intentions. According to the Associated Press, the prickly press darling has pounded Bush for refusing to step away from the soft-money trough. In response to the agreement to ban soft money reached in the New York Senate battle, McCain and fellow reformer Sen. Russ Feingold called for a similar truce in the presidential race. Gore said yes. Bush said no. "It was a mistake," McCain concluded about his primary foe's decision. "I would have liked for him to accept our offer and I feel it was a mistake not to." Ever loyal to his party, the Arizona senator still reserved his harshest words for the Democrats. "The vice president's record on this is reprehensible," McCain said. "They've debased the institutions of government and that kind of activity continues with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is renting out the Lincoln Bedroom."

It's just such Democratic duplicity that keeps Bush from giving up unregulated donations, according to Ed Gillespie, a top Bush advisor. "The governor wants to ban soft money," he said, "but there's no reason to believe Al Gore would abide by a handshake agreement when he has a hard time abiding by the laws of the land."


On abortion ad, Hillary gets no choice
Like McCain, the first lady is having more trouble with her friends than with her enemies in keeping her word on soft money. Reuters reports that the New York chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League has refused Clinton's request that it end a planned ad campaign attacking Rick Lazio's position on abortion. "We will not abide by the terms of the agreement," said Kelli Conlon, executive director of the group. "The message that has been sent from the campaigns ... has been that it is our civic duty not to run these ads, and we strongly, strongly object to that contention." Though the group remains publicly defiant, the New York chapter of NARAL has yet to purchase time to run its latest anti-Lazio spot.

Faithful in my fashion
If NARAL continues to thumb its nose at the soft-money ban, it will be in good company. While the New York Senate candidates fill newspaper pages with righteous pro-reform declarations, they're also continuing to fill their parties' pockets with questionable cash. The New York Times reports that Lazio will be the top draw at a party fundraiser in October, at which dinner will cost anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 a plate. Not that there's anything wrong with that, his campaign insists. "This is a party fund-raiser," said Lazio communications director Dan McLagan. "This is party-building. This is to get out the vote." Similarly, the first lady spent part of the week at fundraisers in California to pull in soft money -- not for herself, she declared, but for the Democrats.


But I play one on TV
As the New York Senate race adjusted its script in the soft-money drama, a real actor and pretend president has shot off his mouth on gun laws. Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlett on the television show "The West Wing," donated his time to appear in ads for the anti-gun group Handgun Control. The commercials, slated to run in Cleveland, Milwaukee and St. Louis, are highly critical of Bush's record on firearms.

On the trail
Bush: Michigan.
Buchanan: Louisiana.
Gore: Maryland.
Nader: To be announced.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Bush 46 to Gore 46 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Sept. 25-27).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 42 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 19-23).
  • Gore 47 to Bush 45 (Newsweek Sept. 21-22).
  • 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. 25-27).
  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/Zogby Sept. 19-23).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Newsweek Sept. 21-22).
  • 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).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

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

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