Analysis: No change in presidential race after debate
By Alan Elsner, Political Correspondent
DANVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - It was heralded as a
potential turning point in the 2000 U.S. presidential race, but
after the first debate between Democrat Al Gore and Republican
George W. Bush, nothing appears to have changed.
Before Tuesday's debate in Boston, the vice president led
Bush, the governor of Texas, in a Reuters/MSNBC tracking poll
by 46 percent to 40 percent. Three days after that much-hyped
event, Gore led by 46 to 41 percent -- a statistically
"Nothing has changed," said Republican political consultant
Rick Davis. "This elected has gelled. There are very few people
out there who are genuinely and legitimately undecided."
Davis said Bush performed adequately in the debate and had,
as expected, come across as more likable and personable than
Gore. But he said Bush needed to do better on the substance in
the next two debates to change minds.
"Being a nice guy is not good enough to win this campaign,"
said Davis, who was campaign manager for Arizona Sen. John
McCain in his unsuccessful bid earlier this year for the
Republican nomination, which was won by Bush.
The three presidential debates are the last big set piece
events of the two-year campaign and the only chance for voters
to see the two candidates side-by-side. The second debate comes
next Wednesday and the third and last six days after that.
Pollster John Zogby detected no sign of a bounce or slump
for either candidate in his daily surveys. In fact when voters
who said they favored other candidates or were undecided were
asked whether they had definitely ruled out switching to Bush,
72 percent said they had -- a rise of five points this week.
The same number for Gore dipped slightly.
Once the debates are over, there will remain three weeks
until the Nov. 7 election, to be filled with frantic, nonstop
campaigning, but it is difficult to see why poll numbers that
have been so stable for so long would change by much.
Gore first took the lead following the Democratic
convention in August. Since then the race has fluctuated a
little but the figures keep coming back to where they were. For
example, in a Reuters/Zogby poll Sept. 7, Gore led Bush by
46-40 percent. And on Tuesday it was still 46-40 percent.
The figures right now, with Gore leading by a small but
steady margin, are right in line with the predictions of seven
political scientists' models unveiled at a conference in
September, all of which predicted a Gore victory.
Analyst Gregory Valliere of Schwab Research in Washington
agreed that Gore was in the lead but said it was premature to
conclude the vice president would win. He saw three potential
threats to Gore.
"The Green Party candidate Ralph Nader could still make a
difference in three swing states -- Wisconsin, Oregon and
Washington," he said. Nader is currently getting 6 percent in
the Reuters/MSNBC poll.
"Second, the black vote does not seem to be as energized
for Gore as it was for President Clinton. They need to get
that vote out," said Valliere.
"Third, the format of the second debate, with the
candidates sitting around a table instead of standing behind
lecterns, plays to Bush's strength," he said.
But the format alone is unlikely to make that great a
difference. "Bush has to get closer to Gore on mastery of the
substance. If he can be close on substance, then personality
could become more of a factor. But he's not close enough yet,"
The underlying problem for Bush probably has little to do
with his skills as a campaigner or his policies or his
personality. It has to do with the unparalleled peace and
prosperity the nation is enjoying.
"Bush has to give a compelling reason to voters to make a
change. In times of peace and prosperity, the incumbent party
has all the trump cards," said American University historian
In fact Bush has run a skillful campaign. He has
transformed the image of the Republican Party, wrenching it
back to the political center. He has reached out to women
voters and to minorities. He has downplayed the divisive
abortion issue. He has not made any obvious mistakes.
State-by-state polls show Bush is highly competitive in
several states not carried by Republicans since his father won
the presidency in 1988, including Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri,
Oregon and Washington. He is even narrowly ahead in Gore's home
state of Tennessee, forcing the vice president to begin running
television advertisements in the Memphis media market.
And as a result, in possibly the closest election since
1960, Gore remains the favorite but Bush has still given
himself a chance to win.
Reuters news material shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium.