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Clinton's Arkansas in play as presidential battleground state

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) --The fertile land along the Mississippi river helped Arkansas earn its name, the land of opportunity. It is where a boy from Hope grew up to be president, an entrepreneur named Sam Walton became the richest man in America, and a college team called the Razorbacks rule.

Although Arkansas has long been considered one of the most Democratic of the southern states, it has increasingly trended Republican during the past decade. This election year, both Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush see opportunity here.

Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush each would like to count on the support of the traditionally Democratic state of Arkansas  

"We sit right between Tennessee, which is where the vice president is from, and Texas, where Governor Bush, of course, is from," said Arkansas state Rep. Steve Jones, a Democrat.

The latest presidential polls here indicate a dead heat, with support breaking down across geographic lines. Gore can count on broad support in the southern part of the state, particularly in the southwest, where President Clinton was born and raised. The eastern part of Arkansas, along the Mississippi River, is also a bastion of Democratic support.

At Ray's barbecue in West Memphis, regular Jim McNease says that the best part of President Clinton's legacy will live on if the vice president wins in November. "I feel like he's a chip off the block in there, and the guy that's in there balanced our budget," McNease said.

The northern part of the state, particularly the Ozarks, is Bush country.

"This is the strength of our party, so the key is to maximum our votes up here, get 65 to 70 percent of the vote," said Bush campaign worker Richard Bearden.

The Republican party's standing has been boosted by the region's brisk economy, as well as a steady influx of retirees into resort towns such as Bella Vista. Along with their golf clubs, many seniors have brought a sense of Midwestern conservatism with them.

In the center of Arkansas lies Little Rock. The state capital and surrounding area is more politically balanced than other regions of Arkansas -- and winning there historically means carrying the state.

"Soccer mom" Linda Mealy backs Gore on the issues. "I like his ideas about Medicare and Social Security," she recently told CNN.

But Darlene Langley says that Bush's opposition to abortion rights has won her over. "It weighs heavily on my decision," she said.

Gore has a powerful weapon in the state's favorite son, Bill Clinton. The president has been pushing hard, calling on Democratic leaders and longtime friends, and planning a fund-raiser on the vice president's behalf later this week.

But it remains unclear whether Clinton still has enough influence to swing the state Gore's way. And both Democrats and Republicans expect the race for Arkansas' six electorate votes to go right down to the wire.

 
EUROPE'S VIEW
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POLLS
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WHAT'S AT STAKE

VIDEO
Watch selected policy speeches and campaign commercials from the major presidential candidates.

WHERE THEY STAND
See where George W. Bush and Al Gore stand on the major issues.

THE STATES
Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? What are the presidential primary results and exit polls? Find out with these state political and election facts.

ELECTION GUIDE
Get Election 2000 zip code searchable candidate biographies and other material for races for governor, Senate and House in our Election Guide.

FOLLOW THE MONEY
How much money have the candidates raised? Here are their quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commission.

RACES
If you need to know who's up in 2000 and what seats are open, launch this quick guide.

WEB WHITE AND BLUE
Allpolitics.com is a partner in the Web White and Blue rolling cyber-debate, a daily online exchange among the major presidential candidates. Look for twice-daily updates Sunday through Friday until election day.


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Tuesday, October 10, 2000


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