US Presidential Elections: Despondent Bush camp prepares for defeat

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The Independent Online
STILL far adrift in every poll, George Bush seems to be using the last 10 days of the campaign less to save his Presidency than to avoid total humiliation in a contest which leading Republican right-wingers - and many others besides in the party - concede is already a virtual lost cause.

For a fortnight now, a mood of quiet despair has settled on the White House as senior aides spend more time polishing their CVs for future employers than developing policy options for an ever more improbable second term. Now, however, the infection has spread to the party itself. In the latest sign of disarray, the Housing Secretary, Jack Kemp, a conservative standard-bearer who has never concealed his ambitions to run in 1996, has put his name to a fundraising letter which all but acknowledges that a Clinton victory is inevitable.

'We conservatives are a family and a team,' says the letter which has enraged Bush loyalists by failing to specify that the money raised will go to the Republican National Committee. 'Unless we pull together right now, we could lose more than an election - we could lose our voice in government.'

In essence, the Kemp bombshell is another salvo in the battle before the forthcoming election of a new chairman for the Committee, a trial of strength between the party's moderate and conservative wings and a pointer to the balance of power before the next electoral cycle. For President Bush, however, such considerations these days are almost academic.

Nothing says more about his dismal prospects than the campaign schedules planned for the next few days. If the Bush camp reckoned it had a real chance of victory, it would be pouring its entire energies into winning big swing states in the industrial belt such as Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. Instead, even at this late hour, the President is spending time in states that normally would have been safely Republican months ago.

Yesterday he was in Kentucky, Florida and Alabama. Most astonishing of all, he has changed plans to fit in visits this weekend to the electorally insignificant states of South Dakota and Montana - not so much to keep them out of Mr Clinton's hands but rather to block inroads by the newly resurgent campaign of Ross Perot.

The Texas billionaire appears not only to be regaining some of the 'change' vote which had drifted to the Arkansas Governor, but to be eating into some previously solid Bush support. Both the big parties are concerned, but for the Bush camp there is an additional spectre: that Mr Perot might close the gap to the point where he is fighting the President for second place behind Mr Clinton. According to a Journal/NBC survey, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Governor holds a virtually unassailable 47 per cent to 28 per cent lead over Mr Bush: the biggest change is the increase in backing for Mr Perot which has moved to 19 per cent nationally and to 23 per cent in the West.

A new state-by-state poll yesterday shows Mr Clinton with a strong lead in 18 states that would give him all but nine of the 270 electoral votes he needs to clinch the presidency. The poll, conducted by the ABC television network, says Mr Clinton leads in additional states that are worth 47 more electoral votes.

While the Perot surge is causing some concern to Clinton advisers, it can also be used as a 'get-out-the-vote' argument to mobilise Democrats. There is no mistaking the new enthusiasm for their candidate. In contrast to the modest turn-outs for Mr Bush along the campaign trail, large and boisterous crowds have greeted Mr Clinton's every appearance during the three-day 'Winning the West' tour which ended in Las Vegas yesterday.