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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Gets a 'Bounce' and Wind for His Sails

Race: Polls indicate that the four-day convention and the Democratic presidential nominee's speech helped to narrow the gap with Bush.

August 19, 2000|MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

If Al Gore wanted voters--especially undecided voters--to give him a second look, he apparently succeeded with a speech to the Democratic convention that gave his campaign a badly needed second wind.

Nancy Dancy appreciated the way Gore talked about "everyday issues," just like a next-door neighbor would. Janet Gryzlo admired the vice president's lack of charisma. Laura Fasano and Grace Moyer welcomed the loads of detail.

Impressions can be fleeting and many undecided voters remain to be convinced. Some, like Robert Andreini, liked Gore even less after a speech which, as far as the New Jersey retiree was concerned, "overdid the family thing" and seemed "entirely memorized."

But interviews with a group of undecided voters across the country, as well as overnight polling and focus group research, suggest that Gore helped his campaign considerably with a speech that, in short, was a hit.

"He conveyed a sense of who he is," said Don Sipple, a Republican media strategist who offered grudging praise. "Not a lot of pizazz, but he seemed in command of his speech, which I thought was very strong."

Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster who watched Gore's acceptance speech with an MSNBC focus group of 36 voters--undecided Democrats, Republicans and independents--called the performance "a home run."

Two new polls Friday showed that Gore had gotten the customary "bounce" from his party's four-day convention.

An NBC News overnight poll showed the race essentially even--with Gore ahead, 46% to 43%--though flash surveys like that one are often little more than a gauge of emotional reaction to a big event.

A Voter.com survey conducted Wednesday and Thursday showed Gore trailing Republican George W. Bush by single digits, 47% to 42%. The same poll showed Bush leading by 18 points after the GOP convention two weeks ago.

The survey by Voter.com showed little movement during the first two nights of the Democratic convention, meaning the gains came after voters heard from Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, in their centerpiece speeches Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Perhaps more important, the poll suggested Gore made significant strides toward polishing his lackluster image. By 57% to 34%, likely voters viewed Gore favorably. More voters than not--42% to 35%--said they were inclined to support Gore based on what they had recently heard or seen about him. The opposite was true at the start of the convention.

Gryzlo, a 47-year-old homemaker in Queens, N.Y., was among the undecided voters who came away feeling better about Gore after hearing his speech.

"I thought he was very sincere," said Gryzlo. "He didn't smile too much . . . he cut to the chase, came down to the bare bone and he said what he thought should be done and what shouldn't be done without a lot of hoopla."

Like Gryzlo, several of the roughly dozen undecided voters interviewed said they were impressed by Gore's level of specificity. The vice president set out to offer a highly detailed agenda, convinced it would favorably contrast with Bush's vaguer approach to issues.

But some undecided voters, like Fred Helfers, thought the speech sounded too much like a laundry list. "Canned," said the 49-year-old police detective from Stanwood, Wash. "Too smooth."

Still, the initial response seemed to vindicate the Gore campaign's more-is-more strategy.

"He went A through Z and let people know exactly where he stood on the issues," said Moyer, a 75-year-old retiree in North Egremont, Mass., who said Gore had "always seemed to me like kind of a shadow and a nothing. But he has substance."

Calls to shore up Social Security and overhaul the nation's campaign finance laws were frequently cited as highlights of the Gore speech, and several people assumed those would be priorities in a Gore administration as well. In fact, while Gore frequently discusses his proposals for Social Security, his prominent mention of campaign finance reform was something of a surprise, given the money-raising scandals surrounding the Clinton administration.

Still, Gore seemed to get credit for the sheer volume of proposals he put forth.

Fasano, a hospice counselor and homemaker in Maryland, went from leaning toward Gore to backing him strongly, thanks in part to the level of detail in his 51-minute address.

"Gore's a substantive person and that's what I look for in someone who is going to be president," said the registered Republican. "My feeling about Bush is that he is not going to bring a lot to the table in terms of intellect or experience."

But Andreini, who started out leaning Republican, said all the specifics brought to mind something Bush has said about Gore: If you have so many good ideas, why haven't they already been implemented over these past eight years? "Business as usual," was Andreini's blunt dismissal.

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