Campaign Dole-drums

It's now or never for the Bob Dole campaign.

A little more than a week after the Democratic Convention, the Kansas Republican remains mired at about 20 percentage points behind President Clinton in public-opinion polls. Even worse, in the all-important electoral college, one analysis of state-by-state polling shows the president with a 417-to-81-vote lead (270 electoral votes are needed to win.)

The good news for the GOP in this dismal picture is that in key battleground states with a large number of electoral votes - Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas - Mr. Clinton's lead is far less than 20 percent. In Florida it's 2 percent, while Texas is tied. The bad news is that Florida and Texas shouldn't even be available to the Democrats at this point.

Surveys and anecdotal evidence agree that Mr. Dole has sold neither himself nor his plan to balance the budget while cutting taxes 15 percent. His age continues to be a concern for many. Most voters say they haven't even heard of Dole's tax-cut plan; a large majority of those who have doubt it can be done.

The crisis in Iraq was yet another setback for the Republican. Americans almost always rally 'round the president in times of international unrest, especially when the military is involved, thus further skewing the public-opinion polls in the president's favor. Clinton's biggest problems - the resignation of Dick Morris after allegations the top aide was involved with a prostitute, and continuing investigation into the various Whitewater tributaries - have not turned voters away.

Thus the importance of TV advertising to get the Dole message across. What little has been done so far has had little effect. This led to a reorganization of the campaign staff and the departure of Dole's ad team. The direction his new ad staff will take and its effectiveness remain to be seen.

Time is running out for the GOP standard-bearer. To have any hope, he must begin turning public opinion around today. And it's not just a question of his own electoral prospects: If Dole doesn't make it a race, Clinton will be able to focus his efforts on electing a Democratic Congress, thus endangering GOP control of that body.

Meanwhile, it is still not clear what Ross Perot intends to do with his $36 million in federal campaign funds. That wild card has yet to be played.

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