Bush battles for California

The candidates duel in Leno-land as the Golden State slips back into play. Pollsters get their signals scrambled, and Nader gets a big shove.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published October 31, 2000 1:07PM (EST)

Brimming with confidence, George W. Bush strode into California on Monday declaring that he would steal Al Gore's biggest prize before Election Day. Traveling with John McCain, the Texas governor returned to some of his favorite themes -- renewing respect for the presidency and improving education -- at a midday rally. "People want a fresh start after a season of cynicism!" Bush told the crowd. "Children are gonna learn! Latino children are gonna learn! 'People who just arrived in America' children are gonna learn!"

Bush hopes that the Democrats will learn a lesson about counting their chickens before they hatch. Recent state polls show Al Gore ahead in California, but Bush is gaining ground. "There's gonna be a lot of shocked people on November the 7th! Like the pundits, who don't understand what's happening here in California!" Bush said in an appearance on the "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." "The pundits are like our opponent, takin' California for granted!" Not anymore. Gore will be in California -- and on the Leno show -- on Tuesday.

King of wishful thinking
Though the vice president plans to take the race for California more seriously, he may be overreacting to Bush's optimism. USA Today reports that two surveys show Gore up by 10 points in the state -- not an overwhelming lead, but enough of one to keep California out of Bush's reach for the next week. Publicly, Gore's staff says the vice president is sure of his prospects there. "Californians agree with Al Gore across the board on the issues," said Gore aide Douglas Hattaway "No amount of rhetoric or advertising will change their minds about the issues that matter." Still, the Texas governor's supporters reject accusations that they're wasting time and money in the Golden State. "I don't think we're deluded," said Bush advisor Ken Khachigian. "We're just making a run at it."

Big states still uncertain
Seven days away from the vote, neither candidate can take much for granted. According to a new poll by the Los Angeles Times, three of the top battleground states remain in play. The survey shows Gore with a 48 to 44 percent lead in Michigan, Bush ahead 48 to 44 percent in Florida and Bush edging Gore 47 to 45 percent in Pennsylvania. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader earned 2 percent in Pennsylvania and Florida and 3 percent in Michigan. Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party didn't reach 1 percent in any of the states polled. This survey has a five-point margin of error, which means neither Bush nor Gore has a statistically significant advantage in any of the three states.

On the other hand
If all the polls agreed, the race would lose a good part of its suspense. But there's no danger of that. Reuters reports that its Electoral College survey concurs with the Los Angeles Times poll in finding that Michigan and Pennsylvania are too close to call, but it puts Florida's 25 delegates in Gore's pocket. Overall, Reuters estimates, the vice president can count on 222 Electoral College delegates, Bush can expect 216 and 100 are anybody's guess. (The magic number is 270.) Aside from Michigan and Pennsylvania, Reuters found that eight other states remain tossups, though that number could be a bit low. For a state to be categorized as undecided, the survey results have to be "well within the statistical margin of error."

Phone fatigue causes poll problems
The shifting and conflicting results from election surveys could reflect not only changes in voters' attitudes toward the candidates but also their changing attitudes toward polls themselves, the Dallas Morning News reports. Pollster John Zogby says that the number of voters who are willing to participate in polls has dropped significantly in recent years, from about 55 percent in 1984 to approximately 35 percent today. "But all that means is it takes us longer to do the poll," Zogby said. "It does not mean we are not getting a representative sample." Others aren't so sure the polls are making the right call. Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University, thinks that this election could be a repeat of the infamous "Dewey defeats Truman" fiasco of 1948, when the nation's leading opinion makers picked the wrong man to win. "The 2000 elections may discredit the polling industry in as dramatic a fashion as the 1948 presidential contest did," West said.

Democrats press Nader to back Gore
Third-party challenges make mischief for both pollsters and candidates. While Nader continues to campaign in swing states, Gore backers are pleading with him to cease and desist. The New York Times reports that liberal supporters of the vice president are walking a thin line, praising Nader's values while calling on him to give Gore the White House so progressive causes can be advanced. "I've tried very carefully to convey to Nader supporters our highest regard for his career," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way. "But I want him and his supporters to know how history will view him in the final analysis if he gives the Supreme Court to the right wing." Congressional Democrats who have fought alongside Nader on consumer safety issues have joined the fight on Gore's side. Led by Illinois Rep. Janice Schakowsky, the group is gathering signatures on a letter that asks Nader to quit the race. "The prospect of waking up on November 8 to a Bush presidency is too dangerous for too many," it says. "Ralph, do not let your candidacy be the reason for that to happen. Ask your supporters in swing states to vote for Al Gore."

Not every Democrat, however, thinks that trying to push Nader out of the race is a practical idea. Joan Claybrook, chief of Public Citizen, a group Nader founded, has rejected requests from Democrats who hoped she'd help persuade the consumer crusader to support Gore. "It would be a waste of my time," Claybrook said. "He's one of the most stubborn people in the United States."

On the trail
Bush: Oregon and Washington.
Buchanan: Colorado and California.
Gore: Oregon and California.
Nader: Michigan and Minnesota.

Presidential poll positions
Major-party candidates:

  • Bush 47 to Gore 44 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 27-29).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 42 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 27-29).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 47 (ABC News Oct. 27-29).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 46 (Washington Post Oct. 27-29).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 42 (Newsweek Oct. 25-27).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 43 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 18-22).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 27-29).
  • Nader 5 to Buchanan 1, Browne 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 27-29).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (ABC News Oct. 27-29).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post Oct. 27-29).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (Newsweek Oct. 25-27).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 18-22).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

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

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