ore trails Bush in appeal and in polls

HANOVER, N.H. (U-WIRE) — Al Gore is a desperate man.
He just can’t seem to attract women. Or men, for that matter. Recent polls showing Vice President Al Gore lagging behind Texas Gov. George W. Bush have been a subject of concern for the Democratic Party.
Al Gore — a member of Congress at 28, a senator at 36 and a vice president by 44 — should clearly have the advantage. He is experienced, and he has the leverage of the vice presidency. So why do polls consistently show Gore lagging behind Bush, especially when it comes to women?
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll observed that while Americans find Gore’s stands on issues more appealing, he is not as well liked as Bush. His personality ratings are lackluster at best and, to top it off, Gore is suffering from what political strategists call a “narrow issue set.”
A number of Democrats have expressed concern not only over the polls, but over what they see as Gore’s lack of response to evidence that he is losing support among broad segments of the public, including suburban women and white men.
On the other hand, Bush has received a few very powerful endorsements in the past few weeks. Among them are those of former presidential candidate John McCain and former first lady Nancy Reagan.
“I am proud to endorse George W. Bush for president. He is doing a fine job carrying on Ronnie’s legacy,” Mrs. Reagan said in her statement.
For weeks, Bush has managed to dominate the campaign by proposing policy that helps him to look like the more moderate candidate.
The vice president, in contrast, has lately been seen as more reactive than proactive. Many perceive Gore’s platform as a preserve-the-prosperity program. Indeed, the vice president’s campaign is more incremental. He believes it to be a more realistic and responsible agenda, and prefers it to risky steps that might upset past successes such as the prosperous economy.
Gore’s ratings, however, appear to have more to do with personality than policy. When the key campaign issues are actually examined, Gore’s stances are more in tune with the majority of Americans than are Bush’s.
The New York Times poll showed that Gore scored well with voters on issues they said are at the top of their agenda.
“Health care and Social Security will be important,” said assistant professor of government Lynn Vavreck, “as well as education — specifically how we deal with the digital divide.”
The digital divide — the presence of the newest technology in schools — is an issue Gore deeply cares about. He is a strong supporter of technology in the classroom and increased computer literacy among students.
Gore also proposes hiring more than 2 million new teachers and funding increased teacher training, as well as a National Tuition Savings program, which would allow families to set up tax-free accounts to which they could make contributions for their children’s college tuitions.
Bush, on the other hand, wants to give the government increased control over education — including the curriculum and the punishment of juvenile offenders. He plans to pave the way for the proliferation of charter schools and begin to fund public schools based on students’ yearly scores on reading and math tests.
As for health care, Gore advocates granting more money to states so that they can provide better care for children.
Children in families earning up to 250 percent above the poverty level would qualify for federally supported state coverage, with the intention of having every American child covered by the year 2005.
Bush wants to expand medical savings accounts and strengthen tax incentives to small businesses that provide health care to employees.
Gore calls for leaving the Social Security system largely intact and jump-starting it with an infusion of tax revenues, while Bush proposes controversial massive tax cuts and wants to allow individuals to invest a portion of their Social Security checks in the stock market.
Yet even with this agenda — one that caters to the majority of Americans — Gore is lagging.
Political analysts have said that Gore’s problem is that the public has a long established and somewhat negative perception of the vice president.
Despite Gore’s years of experience, he has eternally stood in Clinton’s shadow, and Bush is commonly viewed as the better leader.
It might be too late for Gore to change his personality, and some believe that his best hope of winning is to attack Bush as unworthy of the presidency, a strategy that has potential to backfire given Gore’s support of Clinton during numerous personal scandals.
“People are pretty tired of hearing about politicians’ personal lives,” Vavreck said. “I don’t think that his past will put Bush at a serious disadvantage.”
Gore, however, does not appear to be worried.
“I’m not trying to have an impact on the polls,” the vice president said in an interview on public radio. “I’m trying to deliver a message to the people of this country.” Gore suggests that his strategy against Bush simply needs time to garner the results he is hoping for.
“It takes time for facts to emerge, for judgments to sink in, for people to come to a conclusion about how they feel about the candidates, about the positions on the issues and about where we’re going in the future,” said Gore in the same interview. Indeed, “It’s a little early to be worrying about the results. … It’s still months before the election, and people are thinking about other things: graduation, baseball games, summer …” Vavreck said.

Lauren Lafaro’s column originally appeared in Wednesday’s Dartmouth College paper, The Dartmouth.