Vice President Gore enters the early blooming 2000 presidential race comfortably ahead of his Democratic rival but badly trailing Republican front-runner Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Bush claimed 53 percent of the hypothetical vote while Gore was the choice of 36 percent of those surveyed. Other polls released recently also have found Bush with comfortable leads ranging from 13 to more than 20 percentage points.

Even the bad news for Bush is good: Like all recent GOP presidential candidates, he is less popular with women than he is among men. Still, Bush has a 50 to 39 percent advantage over Gore among women while men support him 56 to 33 percent.

In a hypothetical Democratic primary, Gore claims two-thirds of the vote and holds better than a 2 to 1 advantage over his only challenger, former senator Bill Bradley (N.J.).

Pollsters, pundits and other political observers caution that voter preferences this early in a presidential campaign often are lightly held and easily swayed. They note that few Americans are paying attention to the presidential contest, making it even more likely that voter sentiments will shift, perhaps dramatically.

Only one in eight voters -- 13 percent -- said they are following the presidential campaign "very closely" while 57 percent are not following it closely, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The Pew poll found that only about a third of registered voters could associate an issue or policy position with Gore. Even fewer could identify a position taken by Bush, Bradley or Bush's leading challenger, Elizabeth Dole, said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

Still, there's little comfort for Gore in the latest Post-ABC News poll. Bush's early advantage is deep as well as broad: Seven in 10 Bush voters say they are certain to vote for him, while fewer Gore voters -- 64 percent -- are as deeply committed to their candidate.

The difference is small but significant. Historically, it is the candidate with the biggest early lead who has the softest support. The fact that Gore enters the race with a less committed base of support means he faces the double challenge of solidifying his base while he attempts to woo voters from Bush.

The Pew survey underscored Gore's early vulnerability. Nearly seven in 10 voters -- 69 percent -- say there is at least some chance that they will vote for Bush while 54 percent say they are considering Gore. And 43 percent -- down from 54 percent in February -- said the next president should "have policies similar to the Clinton administration."

The Post-ABC News poll suggests Gore enters the race viewed by the public as a weak leader who lacks charisma and does not understand the needs of common people.

Americans remain divided over whether Gore "understands the problems of people like you"; 44 percent say he does, but an equal proportion disagree. While two out of three Democrats say Gore understands their problems, only a third of all self-described political independents and three in 10 Republicans agree.

Despite Gore's recent attempts to move out from President Clinton's shadow, the survey found the percentage of Americans who view him as a weak leader has increased from 47 percent in March to 51 percent in the new poll. Once again Gore fares poorly among independents: only 31 percent view him as a strong leader while 59 percent disagree.

And half the country still says Gore is boring, a view expressed by more than a third of all Democrats and majorities of Republicans and independents.

Hypothetical Vote

Washington Post-ABC News Poll

Q: If the election for president in the year 2000 were being held today, and the candidates were Al Gore, the Democrat, and George W. Bush of Texas, the Republican, for whom would you vote?

Bush 53%

Gore 36%

Undecided 11%

This poll is based on random telephone interviews with 1,045 adults on June 9-13. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll. Interviewing was conducted by Chilton Research of Horsham, Pa.