WASHINGTON –The latest polls show that the U.S. presidential candidates are very close, with a slight edge for Texas Gov. George W. Bush. The Electoral College is also evenly divided, although Vice President Al Gore had maintained a small advantage for weeks. Now it is also within the statistical margins of error, state by state.

The landscape has changed from earlier predictions and many more states are very questionable at this late date. That is the big change. Usually there are just a few battleground states; now there are more than a dozen. That spreads the time and attention that the candidates have to devote to trouble areas.

Bush still has his base in the South and West. He is challenging in all of the states in the old rust belt, except for Illinois. He is being challenged in Florida — once thought to be safely in his camp.

Gore has the bookends on the map. He is challenged in the Northwest by Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, whose campaign is siphoning off votes Gore needs to defeat Bush there. The vice president is comfortable in New England down through New Jersey. His challenge is the Midwest, where states he had been expected to win are now being challenged.

To help understand what is happening, The New York Times spelled it out in different terms. It analyzed the states and devised a minimalist strategy for each of the candidates to win. How do they get from where they are today to the magical 270 electoral votes?

The Times determined which states are safe for Bush and Gore. That adds up to 145 electoral votes for Bush and 171 electoral votes for Gore. Then they looked at other states and made a strategic plan to get to 270 and picked the most likely to be won, even though it would not be easy. Those states they called “tougher.” It demonstrates that there are many various scenarios that can be used to win.

It’s no surprise that in the information age there are numerous Web sites dedicated to the election. Here are several that offer up-to-date and reliable information on the Bush-Gore contest.

For popular election polling data on a day-by-day basis, there is www.washingtonpost.com, which has a daily tracking poll and chart, and www.cnn.com, which also has daily tracking polls and state reports.

For state-by-state analysis and polling to determine the electoral vote situation, there is www.hotline.com, a respected news site for the politically addicted, and www.cnn.com, which features regularly updated maps of the Bush, Gore and tossup states.

For the odds made by the gamblers in Las Vegas on any race or any state, see www.campaignline.com/odds/. That has a compilation of the bookies’ view of any election race in America, including odds on the presidential winner in each state. My old mentor, Bob Strauss, told me a long time ago that “The bookies are serious about this. It is their living. The pundits can be wrong and still eat. The bookies go hungry.” Their information has always been better than that of most journalists and political experts.

Thirty-five 35 seats in the U.S. Senate are being contested Nov. 7. Common gossip suggests that the Democrats will make gains. The Republicans have a 54-46 edge now and the Democrats are likely to gain one to three seats.

Their chances of regaining control took a hit two weeks ago when one of their most popular candidates, Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri, was killed in an airplane crash. He was running neck and neck with Republican incumbent John Ashcroft.

Strangely enough, a poll released this week showed that he is now leading. His campaign is continuing with the assumption that his widow would be appointed to fill his seat, should the Missouri voters elect a dead man.

The House of Representatives has been the target of Democrats and their friends in labor unions for the last two years. There are 435 seats at stake with the Republicans currently holding power by a 223-210 majority. Again, that is a battle that is going down to the wire with about 12 seats in the nation believed to hold the key.

The bookies think the Republicans will maintain control of the U.S. House in the 2000 elections. The GOP is slightly favored, 60 to 59; that means there is 50.4 percent chance the Republicans will keep control.

To capture the 218 seats that will give them control of the House, Democrats would have to do something like this: (a) hold all 206 seats where they are now ahead; (b) hold eight or nine of the 10 seats where they are now ahead but vulnerable; (c) win seven or more of the “even” seats; or (d) win six or seven seats where Republicans are now ahead but vulnerable. This is certainly a possibility.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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