The US Presidential Elections: Clinton takes poll position

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The Independent Online
BILL CLINTON now holds solid or substantial leads in enough states to win the US presidential election in four weeks' time.

The impact of the electoral resurrection of Ross Perot has yet to be fully tested but was marginal in the first week, according to officials of both the Bush and Clinton campaigns.

The Independent's second state-by-state survey of the US electoral map shows a modest, but none the less psychologically important, shift towards the Governor of Arkansas. Since our first survey two weeks ago, two vital, battleground states - Michigan and Colorado - have shifted into the Democratic column.

By the best estimates of campaign officials, based on internal and published state polls, Mr Clinton is well ahead (by at least 20 points) in 12 states, plus Washington DC. He is comfortably ahead (10 points or more) in another 12 states. Together, these states would give him 293 votes in the electoral college - 23 votes more than he needs to become the first Democratic president for 12 years.

Democratic officials however issued two principal health warnings. First, the map reflects the 10- to 12-point nationwide lead for Mr Clinton and could change abruptly if the lead narrows. Second, the Perot effect is utterly unpredictable until it becomes clear how the Texan will campaign and where.

With President George Bush ahead in only 15 states - worth 94 electoral college votes - the Democratic challenger holds an enormous strategic advantage in the last month of the campaign. He can concentrate his resources of time and money in the large, undecided states which the President absolutely has to win, such as Florida, Texas, New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio.

However, one senior Democratic strategist said: 'Look at the figures and you'd say Clinton has it sewn up. But he hasn't - not yet. Clinton's main problem right now is that his message is getting fuzzy.

'He wins as long as three things happen: he is seen as the main agent for change, the man who will shake things up, the champion of the middle classes. What worries me is that Perot coming in, and the softness of the Clinton campaign message right now, could blur all that.'

Compared to the first Independent survey, there are two other changes. Two states - Minnesota and Iowa - have moved from Lean Clinton to Solid Clinton. And one state, Oklahoma, has moved from Lean Bush to Either Way. The Perot effect has yet to be felt, but officials of the two mainstream campaigns point to a number of states that the third runner might deliver to one candidate or the other.

Mr Perot's entry into the campaign could make things tougher for the Democratic contender in the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And he could harm Mr Bush's chances in Texas, Florida and right across the South.

(Map omitted)