Protesters raid Gore office

Veep hopefuls stay sweet; Cheney wins. Polls give Gore the lead while some critics call him a liar. Hillary Clinton rethinks her embrace of Palestinians.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published October 6, 2000 8:30AM (EDT)

Al Gore paints George W. Bush as the candidate of big oil, but some California protesters have a different view. Reuters reports that 30 demonstrators broke into Gore's campaign headquarters in San Francisco to protest his financial stake in Occidental Petroleum. After the protesters pushed their way into the office, several chained themselves to office furniture and demanded to talk to Gore. The fire department later cut the locks on the chains, and the police made 14 arrests.

This is not the first time Gore has heard criticism about his ties to Occidental. A faction of the anti-globalization protest movement has been demonstrating to bring attention to Occidental's treatment of the U'wa Indian tribe in Colombia, and joined in the protests that plagued the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Gore indicated on his most recent financial disclosure statements that his family holds between $500,000 and $1 million in Occidental stock.

Quick poll picks Dick
Those pushy demonstrators could have learned something about manners from the vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and Joseph Lieberman. Both candidates scored an "A" for effort and won the Miss Congeniality Award. But there has to be a winner, and according to the instant poll conducted by ABC News, at least, it's Cheney. The viewers surveyed didn't even think it was close, with 43 percent choosing Cheney as the winner, compared with only 24 percent who thought Lieberman won. More than a quarter of the those polled -- 27 percent -- called the match a tie. The poll has five-point margin of error.

Less than zero
If a debate fell in a forest, it would likely make more noise than the Cheney-Lieberman contest did on Thursday night. According to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times, the fumble-free performances by the veep hopefuls will have virtually no effect on the closeness of the presidential race. Though Cheney and Lieberman touched on several of the policy points their bosses covered in the presidential debate Tuesday -- and with none of the distracting rancor of those candidates -- there's no reason to think the contest will have an effect in November. "I'm not aware of any evidence of a race being altered as a result" of a vice presidential debate, says Thomas Mann, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The best evidence that such events are ultimately irrelevant is the infamous match between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle in 1988. Bentsen, a Texas senator, landed one of the most effective debate punches of all time with his "You're no John Kennedy" line, and the match reinforced doubts that Quayle was fit to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. But Quayle's loss made no difference in the polls, and the Republican ticket went on to a big victory.

Winner takes nothing
Maybe it's not just the veep debate that will fall on deaf ears. One survey suggests that the first presidential debate hasn't made much of an impact, either. The latest Reuters/MSNBC survey shows Gore at 46 percent support to Bush's 41 percent -- roughly the same numbers the poll recorded just before the contest. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader earned 6 percent in this poll, while the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan rounded out the field at 1 percent. This survey has a margin of error of three points.

The real fuzzy math
In contrast to the Reuters/MSNBC findings, the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows a real advantage for Gore. This survey finds that the vice president is steadily building on his lead, and is now up 51 to 40 percent over Bush, with a four-point margin of error. The poll showed Nader with 2 percent and Buchanan at just 1 percent.

Gore goes straight to the heartland
With his poll numbers in flux, the vice president is still battling for whatever electoral votes he can get, and tried to turn a conservative Michigan town into Gore country. According to the Detroit Free Press, the Democrat may have won some converts. In Grand Rapids, a crowd of 5,000 cheered Gore on in the town's biggest political event in years. Some residents weren't surprised by the extent of Gore's support. "There are more Democrats here than Republicans want to admit," said Grand Rapids resident Freeman Haehnel, who joined his wife at the rally. The vice president is apparently reaching a few Michigan Republicans with his middle-class tax cuts and elder-care initiatives. That could make the state's vote particularly close this year. "I think Al Gore's visit here certainly indicates he has a fair chance in this area, at least 50-50," said resident Jerry Wallace. "I think a lot will be decided in the last month in the election."

Can't handle the truth
While everyone acknowledges that Gore was a big draw in Michigan, some of the vice president's critics say he has exaggerated the size of the audience -- from 5,000 to 10,000 -- when telling the story. The New York Times reports that Gore's habit of stretching the truth to the breaking point has drawn fire from Republicans and Democrats alike. "It's a weird pattern that has emerged," Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, said in an interview. "We have these episodes in which Gore is playing Forrest Gump or Zelig." Though this criticism hasn't been one-sided, it's considerably kinder when it comes from Democrats. "Those debate situations are pretty strenuous," said Art Torres, chairman of California's Democratic Party. "With so many activities, so many campaign stops, you might not be able to totally remember the facts." But even Torres was at a loss to account for Gore's misstatements. "I have no idea," he said. "I'm not a psychiatrist."

A mind is a terrible thing to waste
At this stage of the campaign, both candidates are working hard to secure the loyalty of undecided voters. But are undecideds unsure because they're thoughtful or because they're stupid? The National Review's Jonah Goldberg roasts the last sacred cow of campaigning, and questions why -- with all the genuine differences between Bush and Gore -- anyone could have failed to choose a candidate by now. "The reality is that most undecideds aren't undecided because Gore and Bush haven't provided enough information or because the choice isn't clear enough," Goldberg writes. "These people can't make up their minds, in all likelihood, because either they don't care or they don't know anything."

Don't seal it with a kiss
Early in her senatorial race, it seemed that Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't know much about diplomacy, especially when she gave Yasser Arafat's wife a friendly smooch. But now Clinton knows the right people to kiss up to, and presumably it won't include any Palestinian leaders. The New York Post reports that the first lady has disavowed her trip to the West Bank in November 1999, citing Suha Arafat's explosive and unsupported charges about Israel's poisoning of the Palestinian water supply. "I wouldn't have gone -- that's the first thing," Clinton said of trip. She also tried to diminish the public's perception that she was acting out of pro-Palestinian feelings when she failed to challenge the poisoning allegation and later kissed Arafat. "I was there obviously as a representative of the United States government and abided by the appropriate diplomatic protocol, which was very unfortunate in the circumstances," she said.

On the trail
Bush: Iowa, Illinois and Florida.
Buchanan: Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Gore: Florida and New York.
Nader: New York.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Gore 46 to Bush 41 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 3-5).
  • Gore 51 to Bush 40 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 2-4).
  • Gore 48 to Bush 46 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 28-Oct. 1).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 39 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 27-Oct. 1).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 44 (Newsweek Sept. 27-29).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 42 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 6 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 3-5).
  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 2-4).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post/ABC News Sept. 28-Oct. 1).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (New York Times/CBS News Sept. 27-Oct. 1).
  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (Los Angeles Times Sept. 23-25).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

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

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