Pressure is on Gore to halt poll slide in last TV debate


With the Presidential election at a critical stage, Vice President Al Gore and Governor George Bush are preparing for a last debate tomorrow which could be a decisive factor.

The pressure is mainly on Mr Gore who is slipping in the polls after disappointing performances in the first two debate which have dismayed his supporters and given Mr Bush an unexpected boost. Mr Gore had been expected to use the debates to show up Mr Bush's lack of experience in international affairs and national politics.

The reversal in Mr Gore's strong showing after the Democratic convention in August is said to be causing discord inside the Vice President's campaign. The Washington Post reported yesterday: "The conflicts among the consultants and advisers have turned into occasional shouting matches and some backbiting as they struggle to develop a coherent strategy in the face of criticism from prominent Democrats outside the campaign."

The Middle East crisis and the terrorist attack on an American navy ship in Aden are increasing the pressure on both campaigns as advisers try to work out if this favours one candidate rather than the other.

Polls tend to show that American voters believe that a Republican presidency is better equipped to handle foreign policy.

But it is also argued that the present crisis could influence voters to choose the more experienced Mr Gore who has been involved in foreign policy during his 16 years in Congress and eight years as Vice President.

Weekend polls have increased pressure on Mr Gore to seize on tomorrow's debate to halt the slide towards Mr Bush. A Time/CNN poll has Mr Bush leading Mr Gore by 48 per cent to 43 per cent. A Gallup daily tracking poll shows Mr Bush leading by 48 to 44 percentage points. Several other polls have the Bush lead narrower and all are within the margin of error.

Behind these overall figures are other trends which are worrying for Mr Gore. Mr Bush is beginning to erode his lead among women voters while increasing his support among men voters.

There are also signs that Mr Bush has begun to win back support among pensioners who have been more responsive to Mr Gore's policy for prescription drug coverage. This could be an important factor in Florida where there are many retirees and which Mr Bush almost certainly has to win if he is to reach the White House.

Several swing states which could also decide the outcome of the election on November 7th are moving towards Mr Bush such as Ohio and Missouri. Mr Gore's once strong lead in Pennsylvania is narrowing and Michigan, where a strong labour union influence helps Mr Gore, is now said to be equally divided.

Democrats are hoping that Mr Gore will use the last debate to regain lost momentum. He was seen as too aggressive in the first one but following criticism of this performance he switched tactics in the second one and was perceived as too acquiescent and even passive where he should have been more assertive. According to a Reuters poll taken after the debate, 50 per cent said Mr Bush did better compared to 26 per cent for Mr Gore, with the rest undecided.

Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli has told the New York Times that at this stage in the campaign "any false move could cost one of these guys the presidency. The pressure must be unbearable. There's no margin for error in this race."

Tomorrow's debate will take place in St Louis. Unlike the earlier debates, this one will have a "town hall meeting" format where the two candidates will be allowed to walk about the stage while they answer questions from the audience.

Reuters adds:

With three weeks left in the campaign, a small, shaky band of endangered incumbents could hold the key to Republican hopes of retaining their majority in the House of Representatives.

House Democrats are striving to erase a seven-seat margin. While Democrats hold a 26-9 advantage in open seats, which do not have an incumbent and are more prone to turnover, "the Democrats can't win it on open seats alone", said Ms Amy Walter, a House analyst for the Cook Political Report.

The list of endangered Republicans begins with Mr James Rogan of California.