WASHINGTON — Al Gore campaigned about the nation's prosperity for the past month as the Democratic National Committee flooded key states with millions of dollars in advertising. This week, Gore got a hint the intensive effort may have helped, with two new national polls showing the presidential race is even.
A political analyst says a Gore recovery in the polls, if it holds up, couldn't come at a better time.
"By the end of the conventions, many people have locked in their votes until the first debate, when they can ask themselves 'Have I made the right decision?' said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
Two polls released Monday suggested that Gore has closed the gap with Texas Gov. George W. Bush after trailing in the majority of polls taken over the past couple of months. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll had Bush at 48 percent and Gore at 46 percent among likely voters. A four-way matchup also showed the race very close. Earlier this month, Bush led Gore 50 percent to 41 percent in that poll, but Gore has moved ahead among women voters and pulled even among independents.
A CBS News poll showed the race equally close among registered voters — 43 percent for Bush and 41 percent for Gore. In May, Bush was at 47 percent and Gore at 39 percent. Both polls of about 600 were taken over the weekend and had error margins of 4 percentage points.
The two latest polls were not a cause of great concern for Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, who said the average of recent polls still has the Republican up by 6 points, where he's been since spring.
Gore was in a joking mood Monday as he toured his new headquarters in Nashville, and his aides were upbeat about the polls after three months of explaining that negative polls don't matter because voters are not yet paying attention.
Senior Gore adviser Tad Devine said the public polls are starting to reflect what the Gore campaign's polls have been showing recently.
"I think some of these other (public) polls, which are credible, are beginning to catch up and show this is a close race," Devine said from his Nashville office. "I think we have a race that has been tight and which will likely be tight for a while."
The polls are likely to continue their fluctuation heading into the convention season, said Frank Newport, executive editor of the Gallup poll.
Michigan pollster Ed Sarpolus said if the polls remain close after the conventions, that will mean a lot more than midsummer polls. "I wouldn't jump on the Gore bandwagon after two polls."
Bush was campaigning in Arkansas, part of a campaign swing through a handful of Democratic leaning states in the days leading up to the Republican National Convention.
Gore's poll numbers are unimpressive in several states that are critical to Democratic presidential candidates, giving Bush hope that he can rebuild the political coalition that his father rode to the White House in 1988.
In addition to Arkansas, the GOP candidate plans to travel by plane and bus to Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia en route to the July 31-Aug. 3 convention in Philadelphia. Clinton won each of those five states in 1992 and 1996. Former President Bush won all but West Virginia in 1988.
Polls in those five states show Gore behind Bush or in a dead heat as the Texas governor holds an advantage in the state-by-state race for 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
The progress by Gore in national polls has shown up in several surveys, including the Annenberg analysis of how campaign advertising can affect a campaign.
She said the poll progress have been the greatest in states where the Democrats dramatically outspent Republicans on advertising.
The DNC launched a 17-state advertising effort in early June designed to revive Gore's lagging campaign. Democrats already had spent more than $14 million by mid July to reach deep into the media markets of swing states while protecting traditionally Democratic states.
The Democratic National Committee made a gamble, spent money early to solidify its base in key states, Jamieson said, adding: "That gamble appears to have paid off."
Gore's emphasis on prosperity during the Clinton-Gore administration and his plans for continuing it have helped, she said.
"He has been maintaining a positive vision of the Gore alternative," she said, "rather than conducting a sustained attack on Bush."