Convention 'bounce' gives Gore lead in polls

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Al Gore has propelled himself into the lead in America's presidential race, according to opinion polls released at the weekend.

Al Gore has propelled himself into the lead in America's presidential race, according to opinion polls released at the weekend.

But there is every sign that this will be a very close election, with Mr Gore and George W Bush, his Republican opponent, neck and neck until the end. Both candidates have begun massive advertising campaigns as they head into the last 80 days of a very tough campaign.

Mr Gore came out of the Democratic convention with a substantial "bounce," according to a poll for Newsweek magazine. He had 48 per cent of the electorate behind him compared to 42 per cent for Mr Bush, the poll said, compared with 45 per cent to 44 per cent before the convention. Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, had three per cent and Pat Buchanan took a meagre one per cent for the Reform Party.

With a margin of error of four percentage points, that suggests a slim lead for Mr Gore. The poll also gave the Democrats a 51-40 per cent edge in Congressional elections, a result which suggests the party could retake control of the House of Representatives.

Normally, the weeks between the end of the conventions and Labor Day at the beginning of September are fallow. Not this year: both will hit the airwaves and tread the boards across the country as both the land and air wars get under way. Mr Bush will use education as the main weapon in his armoury; Mr Gore will emphasise his support for "working families." Mr Bush will hit 21 states with his television adverts, starting this week, including such traditional Democratic strongholds as West Virginia, as well as the four key swing states: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Mr Gore will concentrate on the swing states, and on broadening his appeal to women voters.

"They're on the side of big government. We stand on the side of American families," said Mr Bush, who has attacked Mr Gore for engaging in "class warfare."

Mr Bush was campaigning in New Mexico, and took the opportunity to present himself as just another local boy made good. He said: "I don't know if y'all remember, but I grew up right across the line in Midland. I understand the Western mentality. I understand the notion of individual freedom and less government."

On Saturday, a crowd in Dubuque, Iowa, heard Mr Gore say: "We need to focus on families. We need to keep the focus on the middle class. The 'middle class', in America, is an all-embracing term which basically means everybody.

"They give in to big drug companies. I fight for families," Mr Gore said, "that's the difference in this election. They're for the powerful.We're for the people."

What is really at stake in the next 80 days are the states won by Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, which the Republicans need to retake if they are to win, and which Mr Gore needs to hang on to.

Mr Clinton himself, however, has now retreated into the background. He celebrated his 54th birthday in the Adirondack mountains in New York state on Saturday with his wife Hillary, their daughter Chelsea and Buddy the dog.

Tipper, Mr Gore's wife, celebrated her 52nd birthday onboard the Mark Twain Mississippi riverboat on Saturday, giving the Gores plenty of opportunities to showcase their familial closeness.

However another member of Mr Gore's family - his son, Albert Gore III - is in a spot of trouble.

The 17-year-old faces charges of speeding and reckless driving after being arrested for driving at 97 mph in North Carolina.