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Gore Maintains Solid Lead Among California Voters

Times Poll: Although the survey finds Bush more likable, the vice president gets the nod on most other characteristics and issues for an overall 7-point advantage.


In a survey that underscores California's continuing Democratic tilt, Vice President Al Gore leads Texas Gov. George W. Bush among likely voters here by 7 percentage points with a spare two weeks to go before election day. Gore holds a broad edge over Bush among women and is only narrowly behind among men--two deviations from national trends that have made the overall race a dead heat.

Gore benefits from a muscular hold on Democrats and liberals--where he matches Bush's grasp of Republicans and conservatives--and he is particularly aided by strong support among moderates, according to a new Los Angeles Times Poll.

Gore sweeps Bush when it comes to handling specific issues--except for national defense--and to the character traits that voters tend to ascribe to the winning candidate. Bush does better only when voters are asked which candidate is more likable.

Even then, there are limits to their ardor. Those limits illustrate how difficult it has been for Bush to crack the California code: Overall, voter impressions of Bush in California are negative--51% have an unfavorable impression and only 46% a positive one--whereas Gore's are strongly favorable, 62% to 37%. Voters are far more certain of Gore's goals for the Oval Office than of Bush's. And although Republicans have spent weeks calling Gore a liar, voters here say Gore is the more honest candidate.

The 48%-41% lead for Gore defies a $6-million television ad campaign mounted by the Republican Party on Bush's behalf. Blatantly confident about their hold on the state, Gore and the Democratic Party have not spent a penny on television ads.

In recent weeks, however, as Gore's once-double-digit lead narrowed, Democrats here have agitated for ads or the candidate's presence; neither has been forthcoming. The poll suggests that despite Gore's absence he still maintains connections to California voters.

Much of the success Gore enjoys appears to be based on President Clinton's popularity and still-robust views about the economy. Fully two-thirds of Californians say they approve of how Clinton has done his job as president, including 4 in 10 Californians who strongly back him.

Asked if they want to maintain, change slightly or change dramatically Clinton's policies, only 20% of voters say they favor substantial change. Twice that percentage say his policies should remain intact.

Separately, almost 3 of 5 voters say the nation is headed in the right direction--a critical indicator for the reelection of an incumbent or the success of his lieutenants.

It was clear from The Times Poll that voter perceptions of the economy have helped Gore: Of the strong majority who think the country is on the right track, 67% are in Gore's corner and only 23% side with Bush. Of those who think the country is going in the wrong direction, however, two-thirds back Bush and only 1 in 5 say they would vote for Gore.

Overall, the poll suggests that Gore has constructed a framework for victory here if he can manage to get his voters to the polls--always a big "if" in a state where few live and breathe politics.

"Gore has been in California many times over the last seven years, bearing gifts during the state's disasters, and apparently voters haven't forgotten that," said Times Poll director Susan Pinkus. "His favorability rating is high, and he is on the same side of the issues that many voters here are.

"California voters firmly believe that the nation and the state are going in the right direction, and these voters say they will back Gore . . . . It all hinges on turnout."

Politically, California Is a Different Place

The Times Poll interviewed 1,304 Californians, including 852 likely voters, from Thursday through Monday. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

For all of its political bulk--the state controls 54 electoral votes, the most in the nation--California has not always been central to the election of a president. But this year, Gore must win the state to accumulate the 270 electoral votes needed for the presidency. The Bush campaign has tried to keep the pressure on here, hoping either to pull Gore away from more competitive states or to actually win.

More than anything, The Times Poll illustrates how different California is politically from the rest of the country. The demographics of Gore's backers are utterly different here.

In recent weeks, for example, Gore's expansive national lead among women has shrunk. But not in California, where he maintains a 20-point margin among women, 56% to 36%. Nationally, there is an avalanche of male support for Bush; in California, he leads Gore among men by a comparatively small margin of 47% to 38%.

Part of the reason for Gore's better standing among men here is his ability to hold on to single men, who side with him 42% to 38%, while married men go for Bush, 54% to 33%.

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