Thursday, September 21, 2000

Bush lead over Gore narrows in Ohio




By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Republican George W. Bush's lead over Democrat Al Gore in the key battleground state of Ohio has shrunk to a near dead heat, according to the latest Ohio Poll released Wednesday.

        The gap between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore in the Ohio Poll has narrowed from 8 percentage points in April, to 6 points in July to 4 percentage points today.

        In a survey of 628 likely voters between Sept. 5 and Saturday, the Ohio Poll found that 47 percent intend to vote for Mr. Bush, while 43 percent plan to vote for Mr. Gore.

        Green Party candidate Ralph Nader has 4 percent support, while both Libertarian Harry Browne and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan have 1 percent. Three percent of voters surveyed were undecided.

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        Mr. Bush does well among Republicans, nonunion households and voters over 65 years of age. Mr. Gore has strong support from Democrats, African-Americans and union households.

        The poll is conducted by the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

        The Ohio Poll mirrors a national trend since the Democrats held their nomi nating convention in Los Angeles a month ago.

        Although Mr. Bush has lost his lead in many critical states, Ohio is still in his column, albeit by a small margin. Ohio's 21 electoral votes are the sixth-biggest prize of the 270 needed to win election.

        The survey trend explains why the candidates are spending so much time in Ohio this close to the election.

        On Wednesday, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman was campaigning in Columbus and northeastern Ohio.

        “I think most people felt not too long ago that Al Gore and I had little or no chance here and now this is effectively a dead heat,” Mr. Lieberman said after a round-table discussion on health care at the Ohio State University Medical Center.

        Speaking before a crowd of 40 hospital and party officials, Mr. Lieberman promoted a health-care reform plan he said would end HMO abuses.

        “Unless government steps up for people, millions of Americans will be denied a choice in health care,” he said.

        Bob Hopkins, a spokesman for the Bush/Cheney campaign, said voters should be wary of Mr. Gore's and Mr. Lieberman's promises. He said Mr. Gore and President Bill Clinton have been unable to pass a comprehensive patient's bill of rights in eight years.

        Health-care reforms in Texas, Mr. Hopkins said, grant women direct access to obstetric services and require HMOs to pay for reconstructive surgeries for women recovering from breast cancer.

        Mr. Lieberman's visit was another chance to woo undecided Ohioans, something the Bush campaign also is working to do.

        According to the Ohio Poll, independent voters are about 6 percent of the likely voter group in Ohio. The poll finds support in that group for each candidate is about even, with Mr. Gore at 40 percent and Mr. Bush at 39 percent. Fourteen percent of the independent voters are undecided.

        Poll director Eric Rademacher said the independent vote may decide the outcome of the race in Ohio if the two campaigns draw the support of their traditional backers and if Democrats and Republicans turn out to vote in similar numbers this fall.

        Mr. Bush will try to do that today when he campaigns in Cleveland, the heart of the Democratic strength in the state.

        The efforts to win women voters continues to be a concern for both candidates. The support of women voters won the state for Clinton-Gore in 1992 and 1996.

        In July, the Ohio Poll had Mr. Gore leading among women by 9 points. In the latest poll, the major party candidates are even at 47 percent each.

        U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Columbus, said Wednesday that once women voters know more about the Bush agenda, they will support the Republican.

        “Governor Bush's policies have been good for women in Texas,” Ms. Pryce said.

        But the Gore campaign was touting the Ohio Poll as proof that its message on issues such as education and health care are reaching women voters.

        “These results clearly show that when people hear Al Gore's plans on health care and education, his support grows,” said Gore spokeswoman Kim Ruby.

        The Ohio Poll had Mr. Bush with a substantial lead in the Cincinnati area, with 53 percent to Mr. Gore's 38 percent.

        The two were even at 49 percent in the Dayton area, a traditional “swing” region of Ohio that is always hotly contested.

        Reporter Spencer Hunt contributed to this report.
       

       



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