State polls put Clinton near to White House

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The Independent Online
WITH LESS than six weeks to the US presidential election, Governor Bill Clinton has solid or substantial poll leads in almost enough states to put him in the White House.

Although much can still change, President Bush - ahead in only 16 of the most die-hard Republican states - faces a gigantic uphill task to hold on to the presidency.

The 'lock' on the South and West, which gave Republicans a stranglehold on most of the presidential elections of the last two decades, has been shattered. Mr Bush trails in two of his 'home' states, Maine and Connecticut. He is still struggling to outdistance the Democratic challenger in his adopted political home, Texas.

The Independent's state-by- state survey of the presidential race is based on published opinion polls, internal party polls and the best estimates of officials in both campaigns. It suggests that, whatever the nationwide result on 3 November, the US electoral map may be comprehensively redrawn this year.

Such traditional battlefield states as California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Missouri are either solidly or securely in the Clinton camp (a 15-point poll lead or more). Other traditional battle- grounds, such as Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan, are counted as being up for grabs, despite a substantial, and widening, Clinton lead of eight to 10 points.

But in the struggle for the world's most important elected office the real front lines cut - for the time being, at least - through such unlikely places as Colorado, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Dakota and Montana, all part of the Republican presidential heartland in the 1970s and 1980s. Other states reckoned to be too close to call include four reliably Republican states in the South: Texas; Florida; Kentucky; and Georgia.

The electoral geography could change again if the Texan billionaire Ross Perot decides to re-enter the race, hurting Mr Bush in some states, Mr Clinton in others. But according to this week's state- by-state survey, Governor Clinton is solidly ahead in Washington DC and 10 states, including the two most populous states, California and New York. Another 12 states are leaning heavily towards the Democratic candidate.

The states currently in the Clinton camp are worth 267 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to occupy the White House. (Each state has as many college votes as members of Congress; in most states, the candidate who comes first past the post in the popular vote scoops all the votes in the electoral college.)

In a sense, the electoral map simply mirrors Mr Clinton's substantial nationwide lead, which fluctuates wildy in the public polls, but currently estimated by internal pollsters of both campaigns at around 10 to 12 per cent. But the regional breakdown has enormous importance for the strategies of President Bush and Governor Clinton in the final run-in to election day.

President Bush is unable, as Republicans have in the past, to concentrate his resources in a few swing states, essential to a Democratic victory. This week he was still trying to shore up his base in states such as Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi. Governor Clinton, meanwhile, can steal the Republican tactics of recent years and channel his money and time into the large, swing states which President Bush cannot afford to lose, such as Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey.

Both campaigns have hoarded their cash for a vast television advertising offensive in late September and October, starting this week. In the first salvoes, the Bush campaign is trying to alter the dynamics of the race nationwide by spending large amounts for expensive slots on prime-time, network television programmes such as Monday Night Football. The Clinton campaign is focusing on relatively cheaper purchases in large, local television markets in the key states of Ohio, Michigan, Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico and Colorado. It is a measure of Clinton's strategic advantage that his campaign feels no need to spend money - for the time being - in the biggest electoral prize of all, California.