Polls Show Bush-Gore at Dead Even in Stretch

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Despite the best economy in decades and soaring confidence that the country is moving in the right direction, Vice President Al Gore remains virtually tied with George W. Bush in most national polls released yesterday.

The Texas governor's campaign claims that what it calls the vice president's "credibility problem" accounts for Mr. Gore underperforming by historical standards.

One of the most closely watched surveys with the longest history of presidential election polling, for example, is the Gallup poll. Its first post-Labor Day survey of 777 likely voters found the Democratic presidential candidate leading by three percentage points - within the error margin of plus or minus four points.

A new survey of 1,001 likely voters by John Zogby also has Mr. Gore ahead by five points, in a survey that has an error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

In the Zogby poll, 45 percent said the country is going in the right direction and only 27 percent said it was on the wrong track - normally a leading indicator that the party that holds the White House will keep it.

But an ABC News-Washington Post poll of 810 likely voters, with an error margin of 3.5 percentage points put the race dead even at 47 percent.

The largest sampling of likely voters, however, has Mr. Bush ahead. The Portrait of America poll finds Mr. Bush leading by 2.1 percentage points, but this poll - a rolling three-day average of 2,250 likely voters - has an error margin of, coincidentally, plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore both have solidified their bases, holding the allegiance of about nine of 10 voters in their own parties and splitting the independent vote about evenly, according to the Gallup poll.

The latest polls show widening "gender gaps," with Mr. Bush capturing male voters and Mr. Gore female voters, who tend to like the Democrat's views on the "soft issues," such as education and health care, Mr. Zogby said.

Much has been made recently of the large bounce Mr. Gore got from the Democratic convention last month, but the new surveys and internal Bush campaign and Republican polling may signal that the Gore post-convention surge has run its course.

Even the rule of thumb that the candidate who leads in the polls after Labor Day has the election sewed up is being questioned.

"That's been true in most cases in modern times, and it was also true that a candidate needed to win in New Hampshire in order to win the presidency, but Bill Clinton proved that wrong," said Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns & Elections Magazine.

"Historically, the candidate who led outside the margin of error in the Gallup poll after Labor Day went on to win in November," Matthew Dowd, Bush campaign survey research director, told The Washington Times.

He noted that John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 trailed within the Gallup poll's margin of error after Labor Day but went on to win. …