Gore shocked by poll ratings

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A RARE flicker of good news cheered supporters of Vice-President Al Gore yesterday, as two national and state-wide opinion polls showed that he had widened his lead over Bill Bradley, the former New Jersey senator who is his only rival for next year's Democratic nomination.

But the overall news for him was dismal. The same polls - a national poll conducted by Gallup for CNN and USA Today - and a state-wide poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire - showed that in a straight contest with the Republican favourite, George W Bush, the governor of Texas, Mr Gore would lose by 16 points (56 to 40 per cent), a margin that has remained steady for three months.

But perhaps the greatest shock for the Gore camp came in the results of a University of Massachusetts poll, which showed this most Democratic of states preferring Mr Bush to Mr Gore, albeit by the narrowest of margins (42 to 41 per cent, others undecided). "If the Democrats are in trouble here - if the numbers are this bad in Massachusetts - nationally they are kick-your-ass devastating," said Lou DiNatale, director of the university institute that conducted the poll.

The three to one preference shown by Democratic voters for Mr Gore over Mr Bradley nationally and in New Hampshire may also be deceptive. While it shows an improvement for Mr Gore compared with a similar poll in February, when almost half of those asked expressed a preference for unnamed "other candidates", a poll by the Zogby International organisation last month showed the two running considerably closer. Mr Gore was leading Mr Bradley by 52 to 35.

Mr Bradley, a former professional basketball player, has also attracted unexpectedly strong backing from Wall Street which has given more to his campaign than to that of the Vice-President.