Presidential race too close to call in Nevada

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CARSON CITY - Vice President Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush are in a statistical dead heat in Nevada, where a new poll shows a difference of only 4 percentage points between the two presidential contenders.

The Sept.9-12 poll, released Sunday by the Las Vegas Review Journal and lasvegas.com, shows the Texas governor is the choice of 46 percent while 42 percent opted for Gore.

Since the numbers fall within the 4 percentage point margin of error, the race is considered too close to call in Nevada.

Previous polls for the newspaper had Bush leading Gore by 8 points in March and the lead had increased to 12 points by June.

''If Al Gore is in a dead heat in Nevada, where George Bush had already claimed victory, it's going to be a good year for Democrats,'' said Rory Reid, state Democratic Party chairman.

''Given everything that's gone bad for Bush the last two or three weeks, the lead gives him a little sign of hope,'' said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., which conducted the poll.

Coker and Reid both said the Democrats are improving in part because Gore is doing well nationwide and that's helping Democratic candidates for the House and Senate.

Both also said if Gore had been advertising in Nevada as Bush has been in recent weeks, Gore might have been ahead.

''Let's put this in context,'' Reid said. ''The vice president has spent no money on media in Nevada, George W. Bush has spent tens of thousands of dollars.''

''Once the vice president spreads his message about how he will fight for working families in Nevada, this trend will continue.''

Reid also argued that Gore has the advantage on Bush when it comes to the issue of nuclear waste storage in Nevada.

During the Democratic convention, Gore pledged to veto a bill that would lower health standards and make it easier to bring a nuclear waste storage site to Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Bush has made no such pledge.

Coker said Nevada is more of a ''must win'' state for Bush than for Gore ''because it's the kind of state George W. Bush has to win if he's going to put together an electoral college victory, while Gore can get by without it.''

Gov. Kenny Guinn, state chairman of the Bush campaign, said he wasn't worried about the presidential numbers for two reasons: debates and turnout.

''The debates will be very important,'' he said, adding they will give Bush the opportunity to grill Gore on the costs of all the programs he proposed in his convention acceptance speech.

He also said that generally speaking, 5 percent more Republicans turn out to vote than Democrats.

A breakdown of the Review-Journal poll shows shows 40 percent of those asked view Gore unfavorably, compared with 30 percent who don't like Bush. Those numbers have remained essentially the same since last November.

The poll also shows voters in the Las Vegas area, Nevada's biggest city and a Democratic stronghold, favored Gore by a 47-43 margin.

In the Reno area, where Republicans have the registration edge, Bush has a 48-39 advantage. And rural Nevada, he leads by 22 percentage points.

Statewide, 3 percent of voters chose Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, 1 percent chose Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, and 8 percent were undecided.

Forty-one percent listed issues as the most important factor in determining how they'll vote; 26 percent cited moral character; 13 percent said experience; and 11 percent said a candidate's personal qualities and skills were the key. Nine percent offered other reasons or were unsure.

Ted Jelen, political science professor at UNLV, said the 26 percent who answered ''moral character'' represent voters who can't stand President Clinton.

That only 13 percent listed experience as the most important factor is a boon for Bush, Jelen added.

''They are saying they'll vote for Bush because he's unlikely to have an affair in the Oval Office or whatever reason,' he said. ''And they'll denigrate the importance of experience by saying: Would he hire good people?''

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