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50-State Survey Shows Dukakis, Bush Neck-and-Neck

September 5, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ George Bush and Michael Dukakis are locked in an extremely tight race for the White House as the fall campaign opens, with the vice president hoping to sustain his late summer surge and his Democratic rival angling to regain the momentum, according to an Associated Press survey of the 50 states.

Advisers to both men as well as politicians around the country say they expect a close race right up to Election Day on November 8.

″It’s going to be down and dirty to the very end,″ said Republican state Rep. Tom Ryder of Illinois - a key battleground where Republicans concede that Dukakis maintains a slight edge.

In Delaware, ″as in the rest of the country, there’s been a substantial shift in the last three weeks from Dukakis to Bush,″ said the state’s GOP Gov. Michael N. Castle. ″I think it started at the (Republican National) Convention, as to be expected. But since the convention, it’s continued, even with the problems surrounding the Dan Quayle candidacy.″

The late-summer surge by Bush eroded Dukakis’ earlier advantages in key Electoral College battlegrounds from California to New Jersey, with Illinois, Ohio and Michigan in between, say leaders in both political parties. The result is a series of tight, big-states races whose outcome will likely determine Ronald Reagan’s successor in the White House.

Dukakis’ selection of Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as his vice presidential running mate transformed Bush’s adopted home state and its 29 electoral votes into an instant toss-up. But Bush has countered elsewhere: the vice president seemingly has moved ahead in Florida, with 21 electoral votes, as well as making up ground in the industrial Midwest. One poll in Massachusetts even rated Dukakis’ home state a toss-up, though the AP survey still found the state to be solid ground for Dukakis.

In small states and large, politicians report a close contest that is unlikely to be decided until the final few days. Campaign debates and unexpected international events could have a dramatic influence on the outcome.

″I’d say right now it’s a flip of the coin,″ said former Iowa Democratic chairman Ed Campbell, reflecting the sentiment of party professionals around the country. ″It could go either way.″

Senior officials of the two campaigns pronounce themselves pleased with the shape of the race.

Said Susan Estrich, Dukakis’ campaign manager, ″Nationally, we’re competitive. States will go up and down. It’s exactly where we thought it would be. ... This is a very evenly matched contest.″

″We all felt like we’d be lucky if we were in the single digits, meaning seven, eight, or nine points″ behind by Labor Day, said Lee Atwater, Bush’s campaign manager.

Officials in both camps agree that the race is subject to sharp swings, especially since neither candidate is an incumbent. That heightens the importance of debates, the subject of negotiations between the two campaigns with Dukakis seeking more and Bush less. It also could heighten the effect of any mistakes by either of the candidates or their running mates, Democratic Sen. Bentsen and Republican Sen. Dan Quayle.

Rich Bond, a senior aide in the Bush camp, says the race shapes up this way: ″Basically you’ve got a tight race with the South looking pretty much George Bush’s way. The West with the exception of the Coast (California, Oregon and Washington) is heading our way, but can’t be taken for granted.″

Bond estimated that Bush heads into the race armed with a solid 150 to 200 electoral votes, principally from Southern and Rocky Mountain States, and that Dukakis probably can count on a base of 150 electoral votes, largely from the Northeast.

Democrats believe they can win electoral votes from each region of the country, and note that Bentsen’s addition to the ticket makes Texas and its 29 electoral votes an extremely competitive race. Dukakis adviser Tom Kiley puts each candidate’s reliable base at closer to 100 Electoral College votes.

Even so, recent opinion polls indicate a dwindling advantage for Dukakis in states he has long counted in his column, including Maryland and West Virginia as well as Massachusetts.

Charlie Baker, who is in charge of Dukakis’ field organization, said the Democratic goal is to keep the race competitive in 45 or 46 states so that if the Republicans ″have a bad week they can lose″ in any of them. ″And I think we can keep it that close,″ he said.

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the White House, and Republicans have won four of the last five elections with solid southern and western support. Jimmy Carter, a southerner, is the only Democrat to break the Republican string of victories in the last 20 years.

With nine weeks until Election Day, these are some straws in the wind:

-California, the biggest state with 47 electoral votes, is viewed by both sides as a toss-up with a slight, initial edge to Dukakis. The state was a tie in one recent poll. Dukakis led in one recent poll in Oregon, and Washington was a tie in another.

-Republicans express confidence they can virtually sweep the Rocky Mountain region. Democrats hope to steal a state or two, perhaps Colorado, New Mexico or Montana.

-The deep South looks strong for the Republicans, but Dukakis’ selection of Bentsen already has forced Bush to devote several days to campaigning in Texas. Dukakis hopes to peel away a border state or two, and maybe even challenge in North Carolina.

-The Northeast is Dukakis’ home region and his strongest, from New York to Massachusetts to Maryland. Both sides give the Democrat the early edge in Pennsylvania. New Jersey and Connecticut have recent Republican histories, but are key targets for both candidates.

-The Midwest is wide open, although Quayle’s spot on the Republican ticket ended any talk of a Democratic surprise in Indiana. Aside from Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, Dukakis is viewed as the strong leader in Minnesota, and ahead less convincingly in Wisconsin and Iowa. Bush led by 9 percentage points in a recent Missouri poll, but Republicans rushed to say they doubted either candidate could carry the state by that much. Republicans expect to carry Nebraska and Kansas.

Democrats say they have spent the past several weeks methodically building a field organization, preparing television commercials and mapping out their fall campaign, and that the race won’t be decided until the final days of the campaign.

But where the Democrats sounded optimistic 10 weeks ago, now it is the Republicans who have been heartened by their candidate’s late-summer offensive.

Republicans concede Dukakis probably has the lead in Illinois and a narrow advantage in Michigan and Ohio for the moment.

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