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Bush rolling to early lead in ‘vital’ votes

In the Electoral College, Texan has clear edge

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On the eve of the beginning of the national political party convention, Republican George Bush has a fairly large but not necessarily solid lead over Democrat Al Gore when it comes to the votes that really matter — the Electoral College.

A state-by-state analysis of the polls, voting trends and histories of the 50 states and the District of Columbia give the Texas governor, who will accept his party nomination this Thursday in Philadelphia, a big edge in 17 states with 132 electoral votes and a smaller margin in nine others with 113 electoral votes. Most of this core Bush support comes from the South and Rocky Mountain West.

Gore, who will be nominated next month at the Democrats' convention in Los Angeles, appears to have a lock on nine states with 123 electoral votes, including the two biggest prizes of California and New York, which have 87 between them. Seven other states, with 53 votes, are leaning his way.

The remaining eleven states with 117 electoral votes, including the industrial state prizes of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, are up for grabs at this stage, although recent polls give Bush

narrow leads in many more of these battlegrounds than they do Gore.

Bush's advantage is that, if he can hold his lead in the 26 states where he is now ahead, he needs only 25 of the 128 electoral votes at stake in the tossup states to garner the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Although the state-by-state count puts Bush in good shape, a movement of a few percentage points in the national numbers toward Gore would change the outlook in a significant number of states.

Here is a state-by-state look at the presidential race:

ALABAMA (9 electoral votes) — Solid Bush. His lead here has been in the 20-point range, and even a Gore surge nationally would be unlikely to make any serious difference.

ALASKA (3) — Solid Bush. No Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson has carried Alaska, and Gore certainly won't be the next.

ARIZONA (8) — Leaning toward Bush. Bill Clinton in 1996 was the first Democrat since 1948 to carry this Republican bastion. That result and Clinton's near miss here in 1992 is the only reason why the double-digit Bush lead gives Gore any shot at all in John McCain country.

ARKANAS (6) — Tossup. Polls have Bush ahead in Clinton's home state, but the state's Democratic history makes it very much still in play.

CALIFORNIA (54) — Solid Gore. Recent polls have the vice president's double-digit lead narrowing a bit, but if he can't count on the nation's largest haul of electoral votes, his chances of winning the White House are zero.

COLORADO (8) — Leaning toward Bush. This is another historically Republican state where Clinton was competitive (he won it in 1992 and lost it narrowly in 1996) but where Gore is more than 10 points down and looks to be outside of striking range.

CONNECTICUT (8) — Leaning toward Gore. Gore has a small lead in the polls here, but the state has a popular Republican governor and has a history of going back and forth between the two parties. Perhaps the closest thing to a swing state in heavily Democratic New England.

DELAWARE (3) — Tossup. Although it is tiny in size and sparse in population, Delaware is significant. It spans the Mason-Dixon line and has a history of voting with winners. Bush currently has a small lead in polls there.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (3) — Solid Gore. The easiest electorate to forecast in America. The only way Republicans win any local offices there is that the local charter requires it.

FLORIDA (25) — Leaning toward Bush. Clinton won here in 1996 and lost narrowly in 1992. Gore has continued campaigning in the Sunshine State and claims to believe it remains in play. The polls have given Bush a small but continuing lead. If Gore picks Bob Graham as his running mate, polls show that would make it even tighter, but the betting still would still be on the GOP candidate.

GEORGIA (13) — Leaning toward Bush. This is the last state in the South not to elect a GOP governor, but the Republican realignment in Dixie has shown on the presidential and congressional level. Georgia is the kind of state that, were he to win, he almost certainly could win the White House. But he trails there, and Democrats aren't giving it a high priority.

HAWAII (4) — Solid Gore. Republicans win elections here about as often as it snows here. If Gore were to carry less than five states, this would be one of them.

IDAHO (4) — Solid Bush. In the Rocky Mountain West, Gore could wind up being a four-letter word this fall.

ILLINOIS (22) — Tossup. This is probably Gore's best Midwestern industrial state, but the polls have the race very close. If he picks home state Sen. Dick Durbin as his running mate, that could make a difference.

INDIANA (12) — Solid Bush. Hoosiers grow up learning to shoot a basketball and vote Republican.

IOWA (7) — Tossup. Before the election year began, almost everyone assumed Gore would win here, but polls are showing the state with a slight edge for Bush. Iowa is one of the states Gore must have, more for what it says about the national trend than its electoral clout.

KANSAS (6) — Solid Bush. The last time Kansas voted Democrat for president, Toto was still here. (Not really, it was 1964. But it seems longer ago).

KENTUCKY (8) — Solid Bush. Clinton carried Kentucky both times he ran, and Gore is a neighbor. But this is one place the Clinton administration's war on tobacco hurts the Democrats, and Bush holds a double-digit lead in the polls.

LOUISIANA (9) — Leaning toward Bush. This is another Southern state where Gore hopes to break through. After all, Clinton carried it the last two times, but he was a neighbor and had a strong bond with the state's large black population. Gore is behind by double-digits in the polls, and he isn't spending time there, which is generally an indication a candidate is writing it off or thinks it's safe.

MAINE (4) — Leaning toward Gore. During the Clinton years, this once-Republican bastion began moving strongly Democratic. This fall should see a continuation of the trend.

MARYLAND (10) — Solid Gore. The vice president's lead there is only in single digits, but not even the most optimistic Republican thinks Bush has much of a chance there.

MASSACHUSETTS (12) — Solid Gore. This was the only state in 1972 to vote for Democrat George McGovern. Enough said.

MICHIGAN (18) — Tossup. Michigan is probably the most important state in the country. Neither candidate can come up with a plausible scenario to win without it. Polls give Bush a small lead, but when labor-friendly Green Party candidate Ralph Nader is included, Bush holds a lead larger than the error margin..

MINNESOTA (10) — Leaning toward Gore. It was 1972 the last time Minnesota voted for a Republican presidential candidate, although recent polls have the race very close. One even has Bush ahead. But, even with a quirky recent history (after all, voters there elected professional wrestler Jesse Ventura governor in 1998), it would be the sign of a GOP landslide nationally if Gore didn't carry the state.

MISSISSIPPI (7) — Solid Bush. In Mississippi, they don't see Gore as a good neighbor, they see him as a liberal, which is the kiss of death for Democrats.

MISSOURI (11) — Leaning toward Bush. Missouri historically has been a presidential bellwether because of its mix of cities, suburbs and rural areas and central location. Bush's small lead earlier in the campaign has now stretched to double digits in some polls.

MONTANA (3) — Solid Bush. Clinton won narrowly here in 1992 and lost narrowly in 1996, but Gore is almost 20 points back in the polls. Barring a major national swing in sentiment in the coming months, it is hard to imagine Bush losing here.

NEBRASKA (5) — Solid Bush. Even in a state that splits its electoral votes, it is unlikely Gore can get anything from Nebraska, which has the distinction of being the only state that Clinton hasn't visited during his terms of office. That's an indication of Nebraska's Republican leanings and its attitude toward the current president and his administration.

NEVADA (4) — Lean Bush. Clinton won Nevada both times narrowly, but his hand-picked successor trails by double digits. It would be — pardon the pun — a gamble for Gore to invest too much time and money here.

NEW HAMPSHIRE (4) — Tossup. Like the rest of New England, New Hampshire took a strong Democratic turn during the Clinton years. The latest poll here has Bush with a 10-point lead, but that seems questionable. This is another place Gore has to take for granted if he is to win the White House.

NEW JERSEY (15) — Leaning toward Gore. Until Clinton's 1992 election, New Jersey hadn't voted Democratic since 1964. Now it may be some time before it votes Republican.

NEW MEXICO (5) — Tossup. This is probably Gore's best state in the Rocky Mountain West, one with a large Hispanic population and a history of having voted for Clinton. However, polls aren't encouraging for him.

NEW YORK (33) — Solid Gore. Gore isn't New York's favorite kind of Democrat, but that doesn't matter. In the Empire State, when it comes to voting for president, any kind of Democrat is generally preferable to a Republican.

NORTH CAROLINA (14) — Leaning toward Bush. Gore remains within single digits of Bush there, and, if he were to pick Gov. Jim Hunt or Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, that might help. But in the end, it seems unlikely he can win in a state that keeps sending Jesse Helms back to the U.S. Senate.

NORTH DAKOTA (3) — Solid Bush. Although Democrats do quite well here in congressional races—its two U.S. senators and one congressman are Democrats—this is a Republican presidential bastion.

OHIO (21) — Leaning toward Bush. Historically, Ohio has been the most Republican of the three big Midwestern industrial states. Its Democratic-leaning black population is smaller than Illinois and Michigan, and it's is a little more rural and less unionized than those other two states, all of which works to Bush's benefit.

OKLAHOMA (8) — Solid Bush. Democrats are becoming a disappearing breed in Oklahoma, where the governor, both senators and all six U.S. House representatives are Republicans.

OREGON (7) — Tossup. Gore should be able to count on this recent Democratic bastion, where his environmentalism would appear to be a big plus, yet polls show him slightly behind.

PENNSYLVANIA (23) — Tossup. It would be hard — make it virtually impossible — for Gore to win the White House without carrying Pennsylvania, which historically votes Democratic, albeit sometimes by small margins. Polls give Bush a small but stable lead here.

RHODE ISLAND (4) — Solid Gore. Some things are just inevitable. The Democrats carrying Rhode Island is one of them.

SOUTH CAROLINA (8) — Solid Bush. See Rhode Island and substitute Republican for Democrat.

SOUTH DAKOTA (3) — Solid Bush. In the last century, South Dakota has voted Democrat for president only three times, and it is highly unlikely to begin the new millennium changing its tune.

TENNESSEE (11) — Lean Gore. Al Gore's home state is not a sure thing for him, and the polls are close. Unlike Clinton, whose Arkansas roots were solid, Gore's childhood growing up in a hotel suite within a mile of the White House doesn't endear him to some in Tennessee as one of them.

TEXAS (32) — Solid Bush. Unlike his father, Bush really is a Texan. He won 68 percent of the vote in re-election in 1998, and polls have him up over 40 points ahead of Gore in a state that virtually any Republican who was nominated would carry.

UTAH (5) — Solid Bush. Many voters here think Bush may be a little too liberal for them, but that's only because they think Gore is from another planet politically.

VERMONT (3) — Solid Gore. Who says times don't change? Vermont was once a Republican bastion. It's now perhaps the most liberal state in the country, where the only Republicans who win would be called Democrats in most other states.

VIRGINIA (13) — Solid Bush. Virginia hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, and it's hard to see it doing so this time.

WASHINGTON (11) — Tossup. Gore should be ahead here based on history and his politics, but he's not, even Democrats agree. Maybe it is a spillover from the federal case against home-state favorite Microsoft. Whatever the reason, there is still time for Gore to pull this one out, but if he can't, the Electoral College numbers will be ugly for him.

WEST VIRGINIA (5) — Leaning toward Gore. There are few more-Democratic states than West Virginia, and the vice president should win here. Polls here are scarce, but the one public survey actually has Gore trailing Bush. Maybe it's a bad poll. If not, it's a bad omen for him.

WISCONSIN (11) — Tossup. Bush has a small lead here, but although the state is often a battleground, the Democrats usually win it when the national elections are close, as this one currently seems likely to be.

WYOMING (3) — Solid Bush. Even before Bush picked Dick Cheney, a one-time Wyoming congressman as his running mate, the GOP candidate was destined to win big in the Cowboy State.