Presidential race goes down to the wire

March 11, 2000

Presidential race goes down to the wire

As the 2000 election cycle nears its end, the race for the White House is in a statistical dead heat. While all the major polls show Texas Governor George W. Bush with anywhere from a one- to five-point lead over Vice President Al Gore, these numbers are within almost every margin of error. Therefore, as Americans go to the polls on Tuesday, pollsters, pundits, and even the campaigns themselves still don't know who is going to win.

While both candidates will have the financial resources to go the distance, the one commodity neither has an abundance of is time. So where the candidates will spend their time their last few days becomes as important as how they will spend their money.

Most polls show 15 states, representing 158 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, still up for grabs. In those states that are considered "not in play," Bush is well positioned in 24 states with a total of electoral 209 votes, while Gore leads in 12 states totaling 171 electoral votes.

Bush began his final push on Monday with a visit to New Mexico. The southwestern state holds five electoral votes, and polls there show he and Gore are in a dead heat. He followed this stop with a swing through California, the biggest electoral prize of the campaign, with 54 electoral votes. The Golden State is a must-win for Gore and has been a Democratic stronghold since the last Reagan victory in 1984. However, recent polls show the vice president lead down to single digits.

In response, Governor Bush has been joined on the California campaign trail by former rival Sen. John McCain in a last-ditch effort to force the vice president to spend money and time in a state he should not have to. The Texas governor will finish his presidential campaign with trips to the swing states of Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, and Illinois—all states that were expected to be "locked up" months ago for the Democrats and Vice President Gore.

However, Gore is not alone in having to defend ground he thought was safe. Vice President Gore has spent many of the last few days of his campaign in the electoral-rich Sunshine State of Florida, where he has polled ahead of Bush for the past month. Bush had expected to spend little time there due to his brother's widespread popularity as the state's governor. In addition to Florida, Gore will spend his remaining time in the perennial battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. However, much as Ross Perot caused trouble for Bush's father in 1992, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader now appears to have become a thorn in Gore's side.

For example, the Vice President has been forced to spend valuable time this week stumping in Oregon and Minnesota—two Democratic-leaning states, where Nader has siphoned off enough of Gore's base to put Gore in a dead heat with his Republican rival. He will also make an appearance in President Clinton's home state of Arkansas, where Bush has pulled even in recent statewide polls.

All of this is making a scenario most thought highly unlikely several months ago a real possibility. One candidate may win the majority of votes in the country, while the other wins a majority of votes in the Electoral College.

It takes votes from 270 of the 538 members of the Electoral College to win the White House. Bush has big leads in several states, but they account for a smaller number of electoral votes. Meanwhile, Gore has smaller leads in states that yield a greater number of electoral votes. The closer a popular vote, the more the electoral edge goes to Gore. Many political scientists believe this could mean a whole new campaign, long after the polls have closed.

Such an event has only happened three times in our nation's history. Most recently, Grover Cleveland took the popular vote and Benjamin Harrison won the Electoral College vote in 1888. Prior to that, Rutherford B. Hayes became President when he won one more electoral vote than Samuel Tilden, even though Tilden had defeated him at the polls in 1876. However, the first such event occurred in 1824 when Andrew Jackson beat John Quincy Adams in both popular and electoral votes, but because of additional candidates in the race, neither Jackson nor Adams gained a majority of the 261 electoral votes available that year.

Under the Constitution, such an event results in each state delegation in the House of Representatives casting one vote for who should be the next President. That year they chose the second-place finisher, John Quincy Adams. If Republicans retain control of the House, it is likely Bush would win such a run-off, but only after a political debate unseen in the modern era.

How this race will turn out is still anyone's guess. Campaign efforts to get out the vote could be as big a factor as the millions of dollars poured into political commercials. Subtle occurrences, such as a rainy day, may swing battleground states one way or another. In the end, the 2000 presidential race may be the closest in a generation.

November 3, 2000