Gore asks voters to turn out while Bush predicts victory

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The Independent US

In the final weekend of the US presidential campaign, Al Gore prayed with clergy in his home state of Tennessee and sang the civil rights hymn "We Shall Overcome," while rival George W. Bush predicted a victory in Tuesday's election.

In the final weekend of the US presidential campaign, Al Gore prayed with clergy in his home state of Tennessee and sang the civil rights hymn "We Shall Overcome," while rival George W. Bush predicted a victory in Tuesday's election.

"I believe that on Tuesday morning, very early before the sun rises, in congregations all across Memphis, you're going to be saying, 'Wake up! It's time to take your souls to the polls,"' Gore said at a prayer breakfast.

Meanwhile, Bush campaigned in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which are expected to be crucial battleground states in the election.

"With your help, we're going to win," Bush told a boisterous airport rally in Pittsburgh. And calling attention to a man with a "Democrats for Bush" sign, the grinning Republican Party candidate said: "You're not alone, buddy."

New polls showed the pair virtually neck and neck, with Mr Bush maintaining his 3-4-point edge nationwide, easily within the margin of error. But the state by state polls looked to be tightening, giving Mr Gore hope that the crucial electoral college majority could be his.

Both sides were also still engaged in efforts to secure bases that should have been safe months ago. Mr Gore started his day courting voters in his home state of Tennessee and usually staunchly Democratic West Virginia, while Mr Bush last night dashed to Florida, where his brother is governor. He trails Mr Gore there by just a couple of points.

The impact - if any - of the drink-drive revelation on the voters was still hard to gauge. The full effect will not show in the three-day "tracking" polls until tomorrow, leaving only inconclusive, evidence of the effect it may have on the many still uncommitted voters.

Mr Bush yesterday either ignored the subject or stuck to his version, that he had been candid about his early transgressions, and had "learned from my mistakes".

However, he did allow himself one swipe at the Democrats he clearly believes were behind it, telling an interviewer late on Friday night: "Most Americans are coming to the conclusion that this is dirty politics.''

An ABC Television news poll found that most voters said the episode did not worry them. Only 15 per cent said it raised questions about Mr Bush's fitness for the presidency while more than 80 per cent said it did not. In such a close race, however, even as small a number as 15 per cent could make the difference.

The election will be decided by the outcome in fewer than a dozen states. Of those that have dominated the frenetic but repetitive itineraries of both candidates in the last week of the campaign - Wisconsin, Missouri and Washington as well as Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania - all were comfortably carried by Mr Clinton in 1996.

All now are toss-ups in the race to secure the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House.

At present, by most reckonings, Mr Bush can count on slightly over 200 electoral votes and Mr Gore on just under 200. A clean sweep therefore of the big six states would ensure overall victory. But few expect it to be so simple. The result may not be known before early Wednesday morning.

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