Magazine article Insight on the News

Polls vs. Wall Street: Watching the Campaign

Magazine article Insight on the News

Polls vs. Wall Street: Watching the Campaign

Article excerpt

Prior to the party conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, there were few in the political class here in Washington willing to place a wager on Al Gore pulling off a win on Nov. 3 -- certainly they were not willing to gamble with their careers.

Democratic officeholders, from the lowly to the mighty, including CIA director George Tenet, were busy in the spring and early summer shopping their resumes around think tanks and corporations in a scramble to guarantee themselves safe berths for the post-Clinton era. Headhunters were being inundated with calls from the anxious.

George W. Bush had a winner's aura and the charm to match. The vice president, tarnished by his association with Bill Clinton and stumbling to emerge as his own man, looked a loser. Everyone likes a front-runner, so the pundits and the polls magnified the Texas governor's advantage. Republican triumphalism ensued and the GOP bayed in Philadelphia.

Then the shoe suddenly was on the other foot. Gore could do no wrong -- at least he knew enough to check a mike's on/off switch before denouncing a journalist in proctological terms. And for all of those officeholders and political appointees who were so nervous weeks ago, desperation was replaced with nonchalance. It was back to the future, the head of a small federal agency crowed.

The vice president's turnaround in only a few weeks came as a shock to the Bush campaign. He even managed to control his intonation and accelerate his delivery -- so it no longer appeared as if he always was talking to the hard of hearing or the simpleminded. That in itself was noteworthy considering it had eluded him for all his prior 27 years in politics.

More than that, Gore appears to have shaken off the ghost of his boss, aided by running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic lawmaker who took to the Senate floor in high dudgeon at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal to condemn Clinton. Political notebook argued on Lieberman's selection that the Connecticut senator likely would be unable to help exorcise the Clinton ghost, but that guess appears to have been wrong.

The fickle media are in the throes of a love affair. Having discovered a personality lurking behind Gore's robotic mask, they are in full fawning mode, influencing the polls and in turn being influenced by them. The "Big Mo," as former president George Bush likes to call momentum, seemed to have moved behind the vice president.

Gore has been able to stay on message; Bush had not. Gore-campaign guerrilla tactics so far have proved successful, aided by slips and mistakes by the Bush team. The result seemed to be that Bush was losing ground even on education reform, the issue he earmarked early. The vice president reportedly had narrowed Bush's lead even among white males, traditionally a Republican stronghold, and he lengthened his lead among women to 10 percent, eight points short of Clinton's 18 percent in 1996.

The Electoral College map seems to have shifted from a couple of weeks ago, with Gore possibly just 23 votes short of the needed 270. And Gore has discovered the benefits of following his boss' tactic in 1992: denounce big business and talk about the little guy. This has been working wonders for him, especially in the key Rust Belt states of the Midwest and Northeast. According to a poll published by the Detroit Free Press in mid-September, Gore moved ahead in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri and Pennsylvania, all crucial swing states. …

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