Gore surge puts him in dead heat with Bush

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The Independent US

After two months of steady bad news for Vice-President Al Gore's presidential ambitions, a clutch of opinion polls out this week offered his embattled campaign team the first glimmers of hope.

After two months of steady bad news for Vice-President Al Gore's presidential ambitions, a clutch of opinion polls out this week offered his embattled campaign team the first glimmers of hope.

Three polls showed Mr Gore halving the gap with his Republican opponent, George W Bush, to close to or within the statistical margin of error for such surveys, in effect placing the two candidates in a dead heat as they go into their party conventions. All three polls had shown Mr Bush with a convincing lead just one month ago.

While the latest results represent a welcome turnaround for Mr Gore,any optimism in his camp had to be tempered by another - perhaps equally significant - finding. When the two "third" party candidates were factored into the polls - Ralph Nader for the Green Party on the left and Pat Buchanan for the Reform Party on the right - the race again turned in Mr Bush's favour.

Mr Nader, the polls found, continues to take more support from Mr Gore than Mr Buchanan - a right-wing Republican before he changed parties last year - is taking from Mr Bush. Of the three polls, the Zogby poll showed the widest gap, just four points (45-41), between Mr Bush and Mr Gore in a two-way contest; one month ago, the gap was eight points (47-39). But when the "third" party candidates were included, Mr Bush's lead increased to six points (43-37), with Mr Nader taking six points and Mr Buchanan three.

The USA Today/CNN Gallup poll showed the gap between the two main candidates at only two points (48-46), compared with an earlier 11-point lead for Mr Bush. Adding the other two candidates made no significant difference.

The third poll, for CBS television, also showed just a two-point gap between the two main candidates (43-41), compared with an eight-point lead for Mr Bush a month ago. It also echoed the results of the Zogby poll in finding that the addition of Mr Nader and Mr Buchanan widened Mr Bush's advantage to five points (42-37), beyond the margin of error.

The latest findings, which analysts always caution should be treated with care as they project the hypothetical eventuality that voters go to the polls "tomorrow" - were hailed by the Gore camp as evidence that the Vice-President's month-old campaign theme of "prosperity and progress", as well as his turn to the left to inveigh against "big oil" and "big tobacco", is having its effect.

But President Clinton, who is acknowledged by allies and enemies alike to be one of the best political campaigners ever known, has consistently maintained that the candidates' standings before the conventions count for nothing compared with what happens in September and October. With the US electorate currently far more interested in share prices and holidays than in the election, all four candidates still have everything to play for.

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