Health Care Hot in Electoral Battlegrounds
With Election Day just hours away, presidential candidates Texas Gov.
George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Al Gore continue to scramble for votes in key battleground states -- Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri -- where health care has played a pivotal role in the campaign. Capsule summaries of the race in these states appear below.
With its 25 electoral votes, Florida remains this year's largest prize among toss-up states. Gore and Bush have "flitted in and out" of the state in the past week with many voters "still up for grabs." According to Democratic and Republican strategists, the winning candidate must capture the "I-4 corridor," a ribbon of interstate highway that runs from Daytona Beach to Tampa Bay with about 5.1 million residents (Clary, Los Angeles Times, 11/5). Health care issues, such as prescription drug coverage, the uninsured, Medicare reform and patients' rights have found "particular resonance" in Florida, a state with a large senior population. "The big issue is definitely prescription drugs. ... [I]t's the issue driving the whole election," Florida AARP official Ed Burtenshaw said (Morris, Miami Herald, 10/22). During the final "frantic" days of the campaign, Gore has used television ads and campaign appearances to "make headway" in Florida, warning seniors about the "dangers" Bush would pose to the Medicare program. The Bush campaign has accused Gore of "trying to scare people into the voting booth" (Hosler, Baltimore Sun, 11/3). However, a "huge turnout" of seniors could "deliver the state to Gore" (Lorente, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 10/15). Experts also contend that another large voting bloc -- Latino voters -- favor Gore's health care proposals, although Bush "could get some support" from this population (Los Angeles Times, 11/5). Although most experts consider Florida a "Republican stronghold," particularly with Bush's brother Jeb Bush serving as governor, Gore has provided a "stiff challenge" in the Sunshine State (West, Baltimore Sun, 11/5). A recent Zogby poll showed Gore leading 46% to 42% in Florida, while a Mason-Dixon survey found Bush ahead 44% to 42%. Both leads are inside the margin of error (Hotline, 11/3).
In Pennsylvania, the fifth-largest electoral prize, experts predict that Bush and Gore will have to court women, a voting bloc generally concerned about health care issues and supportive of abortion rights, to win the state's 23 electoral votes (Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, 11/2). Suburban women have "swept to the forefront" in recent weeks and may "tip the balance" in the Keystone State. While rural men in the state remain "strongly pro-Bush," women continue to "waver" on Gore. The vice president led Bush 53% to 31% among Pennsylvania women in September, but that lead has dropped to 45% to 38%, according to a poll released Oct. 31. Suburban women "tend to feel more intensely" about health care than men, and the candidates have focused largely on the issue in Pennsylvania. In addition, Gore attracts many women voters by backing abortion rights, while Bush remains "vehemently" antiabortion (Mehren, Los Angeles Times, 11/5). Thousands of suburban women, drawn to Bush on some issues, do not "want to see Roe v. Wade overturned," leading the Texas governor to downplay the issue and "sound as all-encompassing as possible." Both candidates have also targeted Pennsylvania's large senior population, highlighting the "utterly dominant" issues of Medicare and prescription drug coverage (Eichel, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/15). A recent Zogby poll showed Gore ahead 45% to 41%, just within the poll's four-point margin of error (Hotline, 11/3).
While Michigan voters remain "unpredictable," health care looms large in the Wolverine State, with 29% of voters listing the issue as their "top issue" in a recent EPIC/MRA poll. Michigan, with its 18 electoral votes, serves as "ground zero" in this year's election, but both candidates have struggled to lock up their bases of support (Zremski, Buffalo News, 10/29). Unions in the state have expressed "enthusiastic support" for Gore, even though he "anger[ed]" some members by backing legislation that opened trade with China. However, unions also cite his "close" position to labor's on health care and other issues. "If the unions weren't active, Gore wouldn't have a chance," Michigan State University political science professor David Rohde said, adding that without Michigan and other battleground states like it, "he doesn't have a chance nationwide" (Greenhouse, New York Times, 11/2). In the Bush camp, the "McCainiacs," -- supporters of former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- could "play a decisive role" and carry the state for the Bush, but many remain undecided (Sherman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/20). Bush has also grabbed backing from the state's estimated 150,000 Arab-American voters, with Arab-American leaders announcing their support (AP/Detroit News, 10/20). According to a recent Zogby poll, Gore leads in Michigan 50% to 40%, while a Detroit News survey found Gore ahead of Bush 46% to 40%, inside the margin of error (Hotline, 11/3).
In Wisconsin, with its 11 electoral votes, the airwaves remain "jammed with dueling campaign ads" on health care and other key issues from both candidates, who have fought the "big battle" for the White House on the state's "presidential gridiron" (Bailey, Los Angeles Times, 10/16). A report released on Oct. 30 found that Green Bay ranks as one of the top 10 markets nationwide for presidential campaign advertising since June 1, a blitz that will likely continue until Election Day. "Wisconsin is being targeted, has been targeted, continues to be targeted and will continue to be targeted at a very high level by Gore, Bush, the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee," University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Ken Goldstein said (Associated Press, 10/31). In recent weeks, Gore has "shift[ed]" more money to Wisconsin, using "populist" attacks on pharmaceutical firms and HMOs to attract voters (Washington Post/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 10/31). Bush has targeted women voters in Wisconsin, highlighting his commitment to health care (Abraham, Boston Globe, 10/16). According to a recent Zogby poll, Gore leads in the state 46% to 41%, while a similar Research 2000 poll found the vice president ahead 46% to 40%. Both advantages, however, remained within the margin of error (Hotline, 11/3).
With most Missouri residents "at a loss" to differentiate between Bush's and Gore's competing proposals on health care and other issues, abortion may emerge as the concern most likely to sway the state's voters. Called "the absolute center of American politics this year" by Scott Reed, former Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign manager, Missouri has recently seen last-minute campaign stops by both candidates hoping to rally the state's voters and capture its 11 electoral votes (Sawyer,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/5). Despite the candidates' emphasis on larger issues, such as Medicare reform, "controversial social issues such as abortion" may drive Missouri voters to the voting booths on Election Day, and abortion groups have concentrated their efforts on winning votes for their respective candidates. Among Missouri residents, abortion remains one of "the few issues that really struck a nerve" among undecided voters (Mannies, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/15). In a recent Zogby poll, Bush remains ahead of Gore 47% to 45%, but the lead falls inside the margin of error (Hotline, 11/3).
With Bush and Gore racing toward the "finish line," both in "striking distance" of the White House, the remaining swing states could determine the outcome of the election (Lambro, Washington Times, 11/5). A report of how the candidates have fared in recent polls appears below.
- Washington (11 electoral votes): Bush and Gore tied at 44% in 10/31-11/2 Zogby poll;
- Oregon (7 electoral votes): Gore leads Bush 45% to 44% in 10/24-30 Davis and Hibbits poll; Bush leads Gore 45% to 41% in 10/20-24 ARG poll;
- Minnesota (10 electoral votes): Gore leads Bush 44% to 41% in 10/26-27 Mason-Dixon poll;
- Tennessee (11 electorial votes): Bush leads Gore 47% to 45% in 10/31-11/2 Zogby poll; Gore leads Bush 49% to 43% in 10/30-11/1 ARG poll
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