The US Presidential Elections: Clinton slips but still holds commanding lead

WASHINGTON - One week away from the presidential election, Bill Clinton's state-by-state advantage over George Bush has slipped somewhat, but the Democrat retains a solid or substantial lead in just enough states to enter the White House, writes John Lichfield.

The post-debate surge by the independent billionaire candidate, Ross Perot, has obliterated Governor Clinton's lead in four key states: New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado and New Mexico. In two other states, Michigan and Oregon, Mr Clinton's lead has been eroded but remains healthy. In Pennsylvania and Iowa, the Democrat has actually increased his advantage over the President.

All in all, the Independent's fourth map of the US electoral battleground continues to show a commanding position for Governor Clinton. He now leads in 22 states and the District of Columbia, worth 280 votes in the electoral college, 10 more than he needs to be President.

The map, based on published state-by-state polls and internal campaign tracking polls taken over the weekend, shows President Bush leading in only 15 states worth 98 votes in the electoral college. Thirteen states are too close to call.

Mr Perot leads in no states but is reported to be doing well in Texas, his home state, which was leaning towards Mr Bush and is now once again a toss-up. The billionaire is actually threatening to overtake Mr Bush in Colorado.

But both Republican and Democratic campaign officials report that, nationwide, the Perot surge peaked late last week at about 18 to 20 per cent. Over the weekend, according to the latest tracking polls, the Perot vote began to flatten out and even tail off. A senior Democratic polling analyst said yesterday that the Clinton tracking polls, which had fallen to a 7 to 8 per cent lead, now showed the Arkansas Governor with a 10- point lead once again.

'I think we've seen the worst of Perot,' said Mark Bohannon, head of the Democrats' Victory 92 polling group. 'We're cautiously optimistic. Bush's electoral college figures continue to be disastrous. It's not over yet but we're happy with where we are.'

Republican campaign officials remain heartened by the tightening of the polls. They say that votes 'shaken loose from Clinton' by Mr Perot may now emigrate back to the President, not to the Democrats.

Up to 20 per cent of all American voters are reckoned to make their final decision in the last 24 hours. Republicans are counting on tens of thousands of these swing voters making a gut decision at the last moment that they do not trust Governor Clinton.

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