Bush's New Challenge: 'Front-Runner Fatigue' History Shows That Being in Front So Early Can Cause the Public to Turn against a Presidential Candidate

Article excerpt

Presidential candidates have always had a lot to worry about: Will enough money come in to keep the campaign afloat? Will the press discover something embarrassing or even politically fatal? Will anybody actually vote for me?

Now, for the top candidates, there's a new concern: the potential for "front-runner fatigue."

Campaign 2000 has started earlier than any presidential race in history, and the proliferation of 24-hour news operations such as MSNBC, Fox, and the now-venerable CNN means that leading candidates run the risk of overexposure. The pace of a campaign, always important, has never been more crucial.

Some of the allure of Texas Gov. George W. Bush - who maintains a steady double-digit lead in polls over likely Democratic nominee, Vice President Gore - is that he's new on the national political scene. And even as the press and rival candidates clamor for Bush to reveal ever-more detail about his policies and plans for the country, his campaign knows he must exercise restraint.

"We've reached the point where a good bit of Al Gore's problem is that he's been around too long," says pollster John Zogby. "I wonder at what point folks will say, 'George W.? Oh yeah, he was last year's front-runner. Who do you have for me this year?' That's a whole new element this year."

Despite Bush's solid poll numbers, there's anecdotal evidence that some voters are already getting tired of Mr. Inevitable. One Bush contributor in Massachusetts says he gave to Bush because a friend asked him to, but now he's interested in another candidate, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, and now plans to send him a check.

Growing scrutiny of Bush

Bush has caught some heat for taking his annual vacation in Maine just a couple of weeks before the Iowa GOP straw poll Aug. 14, which will be an important event for the Republican field. Bush's campaign has countered these complaints with a plug for family values - that it's a vacation he takes every year with his family and that, when he decided to run for president, he promised his family they'd still go.

Still, Bush hasn't ensconced himself completely in Kennebunkport these past two weeks, lest he fall completely off the voters' radar screen. He took a day off to campaign in New Hampshire and then another two days in Iowa.

Though Bush is the GOP front-runner, his campaign knows he can't appear to take anything for granted - and that this early support isn't locked in granite. …