Tue, 22 Aug 2000

Bush vs Gore: two visions of renewal

By Leon Bruneau

WASHINGTON (AFP): Despite their distinct visions and styles, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore are both promising to bring renewal to the United States if elected president in November.

Texas Governor Bush is promising "a fresh start" and an end to eight years of a Democratic administration. Vice President Gore says he will "turn the page and open a new chapter."

The U.S. presidential election may well depend on who does better at selling his version of renewal to the U.S. public between now and Nov. 7.

The campaign is now in full fray: at conventions held in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, respectively, the Republican and Democratic parties drew the battle lines and dispatched their candidates to a race that is likely to grow closer and nastier.

Coasting on a "bounce" of popularity following the Democratic convention, the Democratic vice president has for the first time since June pulled ahead of his rival in the race for the White House.

He has captured 48 percent of intended votes to Bush's 42 percent, according to a poll by the weekly magazine Newsweek which queried 806 registered voters and had a four percentage point margin of error.

And while it is too soon to draw conclusions from such numbers, it is the first hard evidence of what experts have been predicting: that the race will get much closer before November.

The White House hopefuls have plunged into the campaign, which will continue at a fever pitch through November.

"The fundamental choice in this election: will we prolong four more years of Clinton-Gore or will we give America a fresh start?" Bush demanded at a rally in Tennessee, Gore's home state, on Friday.

Bush, 54, is betting on his record as governor and vaunting his "leadership" qualities. He preaches a "compassionate conservatism," embellishing conservative Republican rhetoric with moderate tons, hoping to attract centrist voters.

At each campaign stop he talks about leadership, restoring dignity to the White House, the "waste" of the Clinton-Gore years.

Al Gore, 52, is presenting himself as his "own man" after eight years in President Bill Clinton's shadow. He says he is "not satisfied" despite economic prosperity in the United States and paints himself as a champion of the middle class. He tries to be concrete, spouts issues and ideas, and accuses his rival of being vague.

The contrast between the two points to the crucial role of televised presidential debates in October.

"The debates could be very important," said Steven Hess of the Brookings Institute in Washington.

Three dates have been proposed for the debates, but the candidates must still negotiate the rules -- no minor matter, given the stakes.

More than ever, the candidates must focus on the electoral map, targeting their campaigns to key states that carry many electoral votes.

Bush has the advantage in that regard -- he can virtually count on winning 16 states representing 135 of 270 electoral votes needed for victory, according to a report in the Washington Post Friday.

Gore can count on just ten states representing 107 electoral votes, meaning he must capture at least two-thirds of the remaining electoral votes to win, the report said.