WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Albert Gore Jr. has apparently gained support in key Southern states by repeatedly blasting his five rivals' liberal national defense views, according to an independent poll released Thursday.
The poll found the Tennessee senator to be the overwhelming favorite of Southern swing voters who watched a recent Democratic debate in Miami on national security issues.
The finding seemed to vindicate Gore's strategy of staking out a tough stance on national security and defense issues to distinguish himself from the Democratic pack and appeal to voters in next year's March 8 Super Tuesday primaries in 14 Southern and border states.
Seems to Write Off Liberals
In the process, Gore seems willing to write off the liberal activists who dominate in the early Democratic test states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where he is not doing well anyway. The Iowa Democratic caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 8 and the New Hampshire primary will follow on Feb. 16.
The Democratic Leadership Conference, the group of moderate Democratic leaders who sponsored the Miami debate, surveyed 295 independent voters in North Carolina, Florida and Georgia both before and after they viewed the televised Oct. 5 debate.
The group found that 40% of the voters said Gore came across as the "most memorable and positive" candidate, nearly twice the positive rating of any of his five competitors in the Democratic field. Next, at 21%, came Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who accused Gore of modifying his liberal foreign policy views to pander to Southern voters. Other numbers were Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, both with 11%, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon with 10% and last, at 3%, was former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt.
Overall, 69% of those surveyed rated Gore favorably after the 90-minute debate, up from 30% before. And 56% ranked Gore, the only white Southern candidate in the Democratic field, in either first or second place when asked which candidate they liked the best.
'Good News for Campaign'
"This is very good news for Sen. Gore's campaign and demonstrates that the policies he has been advocating appeal to mainstream Democratic voters," Gore spokesman Arlie Schardt said.
The swing voters polled by the Democratic Leadership Conference, in Jacksonville, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta, had voted for Ronald Reagan for President in 1980 or 1984 and also for a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in 1986. The poll results have a 7% margin of error, according to pollster Stanley Greenburg.
During the debate, Gore aggressively sought to distance himself from the other candidates by supporting humanitarian aid to the Nicaraguan contras , the use of the U.S. Navy to escort Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf and the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada.
Gore has staked out the same ground in other recent debates as well, leading Simon to accuse him of "knifing" his opponents and endangering party unity.