US ELECTIONS: Dole surveys a bleak battleground

Despite the narrowing of opinion polls in the final days, Bob Dole has a seemingly insurmountable electoral mountain to climb to win the US presidency tomorrow.

Our map, based on local polls taken in the last 10 days, shows President Bill Clinton strongly ahead in 23 states and his challenger leading clearly in eight. Of the 10 largest states, six, including the top two, California and New York, are squarely in the Clinton camp. Only Texas and North Carolina are leaning to Mr Dole.

State polls lag several days behind national polls, which show a move from Mr Clinton and towards Mr Dole and Ross Perot. A number of states in the West, Midwest and South, shown here as leaning to Mr Clinton, may have become more competitive in the final straight. None the less, a Dole victory would be extraordinary, surpassing even Harry Truman's pundit- and poll-defying triumph in 1948.

US presidential elections are decided not by shares of the nationwide vote but by votes won in the electoral college. Each state gets votes roughly according to population (actually according to the number of Senators and members of Congress). The first past the post in the popular vote in each state scoops all its votes in the electoral college. To win the presidency, a candidate needs 270 of the 538 college votes.

The map suggests that - as of the end of last week - Mr Clinton had commanding leads in enough states to give him a narrow victory in the electoral college: 23 states worth 278 college votes. He was ahead by three points or more in 32 states, enough to give him an electoral- college landslide of 383 votes.

Compared to our earliermaps, Mr Dole has consolidated his hold on part of the Republican base in the South and West. He was ahead in 16 states in all, comfortably ahead in eight. But the 16 states yield an electoral- college harvest of 135 electoral-college votes, half of what he needs to win.

To win, Mr Dole has to take all the white and blue states on the map, all the pink (Clinton-leaning) and one medium-sized (strong Clinton) red state. Some of the "pink" states - Ohio, Colorado, Oregon - were reported yesterday by local pollsters to be slipping away from the President. But it remained improbable that Mr Dole could paint the map blue in the final hours of the campaign.

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