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Austin Chronicle Karl Rove's Quick Count

Will Bush's Numbers Add Up in November?

By Robert Bryce

SEPTEMBER 11, 2000:  George W. Bush's campaign hasn't been touting poll numbers lately. That's because polls now show Bush, who once held a huge lead over vice president Al Gore, is now either trailing or in a dead heat. A Sept. 1 poll of registered voters by Newsweek called the race 49 to 39 for Gore. The same poll showed that if Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan are out of the race, Gore beats Bush 53 to 41. On Sept. 4, another Newsweek poll showed a tighter race, 46 to 42 for Gore. Despite conventional wisdom that says the candidate who leads on Labor Day wins the race, Bush's closest advisors are still confident -- and well, a little cocky.

"Newsweek's bullshit," said Bush strategist Karl Rove after a brief press conference at the Governor's mansion on Sunday. "It's going to be a close race, no doubt about it. But that's exactly what we thought all along." Rove's comments were echoed by Bush media guru Mark McKinnon. "We said that it would be just about even at Labor Day, which is exactly what's happened. It's going to be a dogfight all the way to the end. This is where we expected it to be: neck and neck all the way down the line."

Despite their expectation of a close race, the Bush insiders don't appear overly concerned about the numbers in recent national polls. Instead, they are concentrating on the states where the presidential election will be won. Their magic number is 270 -- the number of Electoral College votes needed to send Bush from the white house on Colorado Street to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Everything Matters

Rove explained that this election will have a bigger number of so-called swing states, vote-rich states that can go either Democratic or Republican and determine which candidate prevails. "That's why this is an interesting election," said Rove. "We are not only just talking about traditional swing states of Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio." This year there is also "Delaware, New Hampshire, Maine, Wisconsin, Iowa, Washington state, Oregon. Those are all in play. So everything matters."

Rove dismisses the intriguing possibility that Gore might win the popular vote but still lose in the Electoral College. "No, no, no, no," said Rove shaking his head. "Not likely to happen." So what does the veteran consultant believe is likely to happen? "It's a rather simple equation," Rove said quickly. "One hundred, 114, 12, equals 44."

Okay. How about an explanation of that equation?

Rove gladly responded. Here's his 53-second (I timed it) analysis of how the November 7 election will break down. There are "100 electoral college votes between the Sierra Nevadas and the Missouri River -- from Idaho to North Dakota and from Arizona to Texas and everything in between plus Alaska," Rove said. And all are in "good shape for Bush. Solid. In fact they [the Gore campaign] are only making a play for one of those states.

"Take 114 in the South, not including Tennessee. And they are only playing essentially for three of those states: Louisiana, Arkansas, and Florida. But we are in good shape in all three of those. Indiana gives us 12 more. That gets us to 226. That leaves 44 more to go.

"We've got to put 44 more [Electoral College votes] to go -- out of four in Maine, four in New Hampshire, three in Delaware, 23 in Pennsylvania, 21 in Ohio, 18 in Michigan, 11 in Wisconsin, 11 in Missouri, 22 in Illinois, seven in Iowa, 11 in Washington state, seven in Oregon," Rove said without pausing for a breath. "We have to find 44 out of that ... what is it, 119? [It's 142.] And we have 32 of them locked up. Maybe 36."

A Damp Fuse

Rove's confidence isn't shared by Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at UT. Buchanan believes Rove's analysis of the Electoral College outcome is plausible. But he also sees the balance of the race tilting toward Gore. "The dynamic right now favors Gore." And when it comes to fighting for the swing states that Rove mentions, Buchanan believes Bush may be faltering. He cited a poll released on Tuesday by The Kansas City Star, which shows Bush trailing Gore in Missouri by four points. A month ago, says Buchanan, Bush was leading in Missouri by 11 points. "The aura of inevitability that Rove wants to re-ignite has a damp fuse," said Buchanan.

Damp fuse or not, the Bush campaign is struggling to get back into the lead of what used to be an almost can't-lose contest. Bush's tendency to make gaffes (witness the "major-league asshole" comment on Monday) as well as Gore's sharp campaigning have "Bush on the run, and Bush has yet to stop the bleeding," says Buchanan.

At the moment, Buchanan appears to be right. But Rove's prognostication on the Electoral College may prove prescient. After raising and spending nearly $100 million in the most expensive presidential campaign ever mounted, Rove certainly better hope he's right.

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