The US Presidential Elections: Polls point to Democrat victory in home stretch

BILL CLINTON continues to solidify his position in state-by-state polls and, barring some unforeseen event, looks assured of a comfortable victory in the US presidential election in two weeks' time.

But the Independent's third battleground map of the US election suggests that talk of a Democratic landslide may be premature. Governor Clinton has yet to break through in the South. He looks likely to lose Texas, the third-biggest state, and the adopted home of President George Bush. In a handful of states - Iowa, Tennessee, Hawaii - the Democratic momentum has slowed.

Almost everywhere else, the electoral map is beginning to take on a deathly look for the Republicans. Ohio and New Jersey, two large bell-wether states that have voted Republican in every election in the last two decades, have moved into the 'Leaning to Clinton' column - a 12-point Clinton lead or more. Two pivotal Midwestern industrial states, Illinois and Michigan, have moved up to 'Solid Clinton' - a 20-point lead or more.

The map, based on published and internal party polls compiled by the two campaigns, gives solid or substantial leads for Mr Clinton in 26 states and the district of Columbia. This would be enough to give the Governor of Arkansas 329 votes in the electoral college, 59 more than he needs to become the first Democratic presidential winner for 16 years.

The map is weighted in Mr Bush's favour, in the expectation that the polls, now showing a 15- to 19-point national lead for Governor Clinton, will narrow substantially before election day. Many of the 10 states shown as too close to call are leaning to the Democrat by 10 points or less.

The 'Leaning to Bush' and 'Solid Bush' states - 14, worth 111 electoral-college votes - are leaning to him by slim or modest margins, with the exception of Utah, the only true Bush bastion.

To date, the revived campaign of the independent candidate, Ross Perot, has failed to alter the arithmetic in any state. Republican forecasts that he would flatten the Clinton lead in New Jersey, Ohio and California have been dashed. But Mr Perot's national poll score of 12 to 14 per cent has failed to give Governor Clinton the break-throughs hoped for in Texas and the South.

A senior Democratic strategist said the map represented the most advantageous position, two weeks from polling day, of any Democratic presidential candidate since the Johnson avalanche of 1964. 'We have every reason to be confident, but the race is not over yet,' he said. 'Clinton has still to persuade many people that they want to vote for him and not against Bush.'

None the less, Governor Clinton enjoys a huge strategic advantage in the last frantic two weeks of campaigning. US elections are decided not on the popular vote nationwide but the number of electoral-college votes won in first-past-the-post victories in the 50 states and Washington DC.

This time, in a reversal of the politics of the 1980s, it is the Republicans who must talk about 'threading the needle' - assembling victories in just enough states to reach the magic total of 270 votes in the electoral college. It is the Democrats who can afford to concentrate their resources in Ohio, Michigan, Florida, New Jersey and the South, where President Bush absolutely must win to have any chance or reaching an electoral-college majority.

The story of the campaign is this week's campaign schedule. President Bush, who had the South locked up in September four years ago, is taking a train through the Carolinas. Governor Clinton is invading Republican heartlands in the South - which have not seen a Democratic contender in October in years - and also visiting Wyoming, Montana and Nevada.

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