Bush, Clinton Electoral Strategies Take Shape
GOP focuses on South, big Midwest states, Democrats rely on California and Northwest
WASHINGTON — IN the latest available polls, President Bush now leads Gov. Bill Clinton in only two states: Utah and Idaho. Texas and a half-dozen smaller states show virtual dead heats.
But even at this lopsided stage of the race, the political battle map is taking shape.
The Democrats have left behind the dream of winning back the South, the traditional strategy that last won them the White House in 1976. In spite of a two-Southerner ticket, the Democrats are building their strategy around California - a state that has not given its votes to a Democrat since 1964.
They are pursuing something close to what political analyst William Schneider has called the "suburban strategy," built around the West Coast and big chunks of the industrial Midwest and Northeast.
The Bush team, by contrast, plans a traditional campaign that rests on the Republican presidential bastions in the Rocky Mountain states and the South.
This year, the Republicans still have catch-up work to do in their stronghold regions. They especially need to shore up current weaknesses in the big Southern prizes of Florida and Texas.
David Carney, political director for the Bush campaign, says the Republicans have identified five states as crucial battlegrounds this fall: Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Four of these five states - Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin - are also key pieces in an Electoral College majority for Mr. Clinton, according to both Mr. Schneider and Democratic consultant Mark Siegel.
The next states on the Bush priority list include New Jersey and Colorado, which are usually comfortable for a Republican presidential contender. Mr. Bush may have to fight for them this year, however.
Clinton is not counting on either state, but the environmental record of his running mate, Sen. Albert Gore Jr., may be an asset in Colorado. "I think we'll win Colorado with three [percentage] points of green vote from Gore," says Mr. Siegel.
An even tougher fight is looming in Pennsylvania, a state that has gone narrowly Republican in recent presidential elections and is being targeted by both candidates.
The Bush campaign also intends to make Clinton fight for everything he gets in California, Oregon, and Washington. The Clinton-Gore ticket is "on the wrong side of a lot of issues in the Pacific Rim," says Mr. Carney, citing the Democrats for what he calls environmental extremism.
The Pacific Coast, however, is where Clinton's strongest support is concentrated. Many Democrats consider the region to be his electoral base.
Jon Petrocik, a University of California at Berkeley professor who studies demographic and electoral trends, says that Oregon and Washington "are gone from the Republican column. California is nearly gone."
Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin, a top strategist in Ronald Reagan's successful campaigns, told a Monitor breakfast at the end of the Republican convention that "unless the whole thing falls apart," Clinton will win California.
Republicans have not won the presidency without winning California since the 1880s, according to Mr. Wirthlin. Without it, he adds, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania become crucial to Bush.
"The jobs issue hurts him most in those states," he adds.
The Southern strategy, in turn, has been a Democratic staple since Franklin Roosevelt created his New Deal coalition of Southern whites, Northern labor, and blacks.
It worked once for Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, but the region has become increasingly part of the Republican base since Richard Nixon's victory in 1968.
Clinton, who is governor of Arkansas, used his strength in the South to launch himself ahead of the field in the primary season. But his general-election campaign counts only on winning his home state of Arkansas and Gore's Tennessee.
That does not mean that Clinton will concede the rest of the South to Bush, however.
"I don't view Texas or Florida as a lock [for Bush] at all," says Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin.
Garin and his partner, Peter Hart, noted a Clinton weakness before the Democratic convention among some working-class, ethnic, and Roman Catholic voters in the Northeast. That weakness was shored up after the convention, Mr. Garin says, by "the antagonism to President Bush and the desire for change."
Clinton's character still remains an open question for many older, more-traditional voters, Garin says, but "at this point, they're giving him the benefit of the doubt."
At the GOP convention, Bush successfully brought into his column the Republican base vote, representing 40 percent of the electorate. But the convention also antagonized many working women, who are forming a solid Democratic bloc, Garin says.