Voter Irritation Could Hurt Gore Bid
By Ceci Connolly
The survey by the Pew Research Center found Gore's popularity declining sharply in part because many Americans have a negative view of Clinton and they are exhausted by a series of Clinton administration controversies.
In test matchups, Democrat Gore lost to two Republicans – Elizabeth Dole, former president of the American Red Cross, and George W. Bush, the governor of Texas. But it is the underlying data that are more alarming for the vice president. They show Gore is being damaged by Clinton's misdeeds and that the vice president cannot count on women – the heart of Clinton's electoral strength – to help carry him to victory in 2000.
According to the Pew Center, 74 percent of respondents, including large majorities of Democrats, said they are "tired of all the problems associated with the Clinton administration" and only 29 percent wish Clinton would run for a third term.
"They are taking out their frustrations with Clinton on Gore," said center director Andrew Kohut.
Gore's pollster discounted the survey as attempting to draw conclusions before the 2000 race has taken shape.
"Vice presidents typically start off somewhere behind because they are famous but not fully known," said Mark Penn. "You will see the vice president, over time, as he builds his own message, become increasingly known for his own character and what he stands for."
The Gore team is well-armed with data showing many vice presidents were viewed poorly 18 months before Election Day. In an April 1987 Gallup poll, for instance, George Bush trailed Gary Hart 42 percent to 50 percent.
But unlike in past elections, when a president's job performance seemed to have a direct impact on his vice president's prospects, Kohut said the survey is interesting because voters now seem to place more importance on Clinton's ethical lapses. Although Kohut said he has long suspected the Clinton scandals would rub off on Gore, "this is the first time we saw evidence of it."
Throughout last year's impeachment saga, Gore steadfastly defended Clinton, saying that while the president's affair was reprehensible, Clinton's policy achievements were noteworthy. On the day the House impeached Clinton, Gore said Clinton would "be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents."
At this early juncture Gore appears to be in a quandary; he enjoys few of the benefits of his seven-year partnership with Clinton and yet voters do not seem to score him well on his own either.
Although most said they like Gore as a person better than Clinton, only one-third think the vice president cares more about their problems. When they were asked to describe Gore, the number one response was "boring," Pew found. More significantly, Kohut said Gore is not getting much credit for the administration's substantive achievements.
The poll comes at a difficult time for Gore, as he attempts to step out from behind Clinton's shadow and create his own public persona.
Gore's favorable rating has dipped to 47 percent compared to 58 percent in December. The last time he was viewed this negatively was when he battled charges of fund-raising violations in September 1997.
Gore also loses among women, the voting group that returned Clinton to office in 1996. In the Pew poll, women preferred Bush over Gore 52 percent to 42 percent. The telephone survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Conducted March 24 through 30, it polled 1,786 adults nationwide.
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