Entering the election's home stretch
The late Bob Prince, the Pittsburgh Pirates' legendary announcer, often described a play as, "close as the fuzz in a tick's ear." Presently that description portrays the presidential polls between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush. Barring any major outside developments or October surprises, the outcome of the election should begin to come into focus by Monday.
Elections evolve through cycles. The final phase encompasses the last 10 days when voters tend to decide on their selections and trend lines begin to show in the polls. Today is the first of the final 10 days of the 2000 election. Weekend polling results released on Monday should shed some light on who has the momentum. That candidate will be the winner if outside forces do not interrupt the final days of the campaign.
For Gore, stock market declines or further instability in the Middle East can be an outside force that sidetracks his campaign. For Bush, the recently released Rand report criticizing the Texas educational progress may be the force that continues to unravel his candidacy during the final days of the campaign. President Clinton could also influence reactions favoring either candidate by making a policy mistake that shows him weak or using military force against terrorists that shows him strong and decisive.
At this point in time during the election 20 years ago between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the candidates were deadlocked in the polls. However, the voters had begun moving towards Reagan, so much so that Carter's pollster told the president on the Saturday before the election that he had lost. Similarly in 1992, President Bush was told of his fate during the weekend before his loss to Bill Clinton.
Gore has begun a slight rise in the polls this week, overtaking Bush for the first time in many days. Was this rise the start of the final trend breaking for Gore or just a reflection of Gore's further consolidation of the Democratic base? Bush has consistently held his Republican base support in the high 80 percentage levels while Gore has gone from the high 70s into the low 80 percentage levels. Getting those core supporters to the polls will be crucial in this election.
Women who favor Gore's positions have moved back and forth, first to Bush and now back to Gore. They have provided the vice president's advantage thus far.
It appears that as election day looms, many are choosing presidential substance over presidential personality. Gun owners are enthusiastically reacting to the National Rifle Association's massive vilification of the vice president, keeping many of the battleground states into play for Bush.
Closely watch the polls released on Wednesday next week. As the days of the campaign draw short, each day's momentum doubles in importance as more voters break with the final trend. If Gore continues to hold the national lead in most or all of the polls on that day, he will be able to sustain the momentum until election day. If Bush regains his lead in most of the polls, you may be assured that he will win most battleground states the following week.
Vice President Gore has the more formidable task in the electoral college. He must win nine of about 14 toss-up states. Election night may be decided early or late, depending if Washington and Oregon come into play.
Given the currently "locked up" states, Gore and Bush have simple tasks. Gore must win four of the following states worth a minimum of 40 electoral votes: Tennessee, Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota and Washington. He must carry Pennsylvania (23), Illinois (22) and Michigan (18) along with New York, California, Maryland, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Delaware.
In New England, Gore must carry all but one state. Either Maine or New Hampshire (both worth four electoral votes) can go to Bush, but not both. And Gore must carry three of the following five states: Iowa, Oregon, Arkansas, West Virginia and New Mexico.
This scenario concedes Florida (25), Ohio (21), Louisiana (9), Kentucky (8), Arizona (8) and Nevada (4) to Governor Bush. However, should Gore win Florida, he could afford to lose one or two more of the "must states" listed above, but would in fact probably win the election regardless.
Contrary to the belief that Missouri is key to the election, Pennsylvania and Michigan are absolute musts for Gore. Florida is an absolute must for Bush. For once, given that they come in accordingly, the west coast may finally determine a national election with Washington being the most crucial for Gore. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader may tip that state and the election to Bush by pulling enough support from Gore.
For political junkies, this year is heaven. For the staffs of the candidates, it has been a roller coaster ride with enough ups and downs to numb everyone.
For me, my roller coaster will either take a huge surge upward or a depressing dive downward by the middle of next week. I will know the outcome from trending polls and subsequently watch my formula of states fall into place accordingly. My hope is that next week I can use the other famous Bob Prince line describing a Pirate homerun, "You can kiss it good-bye."
Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame '73, is serving in President Clinton's administration as a Congressional and Public Affairs Director and is currently assisting Vice President Gore's White House Empowerment Commission. His column appears every other Friday.
The views expressed in thus column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, October 27, 2000