Gore holds slight edge in state

By DAVID AMMONS

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Democrat Al Gore continues to enjoy a slight, but not insurmountable, edge in this independent-minded, ticket-splitting battleground state, but in the words of one pollster, hasn’t "closed the sale."

Democrats acknowledge the recent volatility of the race nationally, but they are mildly confident that the incumbent vice president will carry the state’s electoral votes in an election now little more than five weeks off. But Republicans insist that Gov. George W. Bush is in the thick of it and will not withdraw from the state in October, as they once feared.

Republican strategist Dave Mortenson says it’s good news for the GOP and its downballot candidates that Bush is still in the hunt in a state that hasn’t voted Republican since 1984. Washington is a Democratic-leaning state, with only one statewide GOP elected official.

"It really is nip-and-tuck, too close to call — and that encourages me," Mortenson says. "It really is mirroring the national polls. I see Washington being a battleground state to the very end.

"There seem to be no real issues per se. It’s almost like whoever does better on Oprah or has a better Top 10 list on Letterman will be our next president. Very strange."

Democratic consultant Cathy Allen of Seattle says Gore will hang onto his skinny poll margins in Washington — currently between 4 and 7 percent — and even expand on it as Nader voters come "home" to the Democratic Party because the race is close.

Allen, who advises women candidates, said women will put Gore over the top in Washington. "Al will have a double-digit advantage with women — and there’s your winning edge right there," she says.

Between 4 and 6 percent more women than men will vote here in November, her research shows.

Carolyn Long, political scientist at Washington State University at Vancouver, says a female Democrat’s bid to oust Sen. Slade Gorton, dotcom millionaire Maria Cantwell, will help bring out women and Democrats, helping Gore.

"I don’t see (Green Party nominee Ralph) Nader’s numbers increasing that much. I think Gore will win by 4 or 5 points."

Independent Seattle pollster Stuart Elway calls the race fluid. His latest numbers show a 44-37 Gore advantage, with Nader at 4 percent and the rest undecided.

His statewide poll of 400 voters was conducted last weekend and carries a margin of error of 5 percentage points. Elway said his read is that Gore probably has a small lead. But he said one-third of Gore’s numbers are only leaning his way. One-fourth of Bush’s people are leaners.

"Gore hasn’t locked it up yet. Both of them still need to close the sale," Elway says. "There is still a lot of time for the numbers to change."

Republican strategist Todd Myers, who terms the race too close to call in Washington, says he’s watching "squishiness of Gore’s support that may go in two directions — to Bush and to Nader." The administration’s decision to tap the strategic petroleum reserves may be seen by some environmentalists as encouraging fossil fuel use — and drive more Gore voters to Nader, he surmises.

Myers said he’s "100 percent sure" that Bush will keep his Washington state campaign up and running until Election Day. That’s a good chess move, not only because Bush may carry the state, but also because it forces Gore to spend time and money on a state the Democrats carried the last three elections, he says.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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