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banner Wednesday, 9 February, 2000, 16:51 GMT
Candidates feel the strain




By the BBC's Gordon Corera

You could forgive the candidates if they looked more than a little bleary eyed and worse for wear over the last week. No sooner had the victors been declared, after the close-quarters combat of New Hampshire primary, than they were off again - this time fanning out across the country in the next stage of the primary campaign.


Gordon Corera is on the campaign trail
Al Gore took off from New Hampshire to New York then to Washington DC (for a Senate vote) before going onto Ohio and California, where he managed a marathon three hour talk lasting until 0100. Gore's Democratic challenger Bill Bradley went from New Hampshire to Connecticut and New York, then to California, while John McCain was greeted by hundreds of die-hard supporters at a 0300 rally at a South Carolina airport just hours after his victory in New Hampshire.

George W Bush followed hot on his heels into the state.

These frenetic schedules, packed with overnight flights, early starts and late finishes, are the product of states pushing their primary elections as early as possible to try and maximise their influence. By mid March we should know the identity of the two party's nominees, even though the primaries themselves will stretch into early June.

On the Democratic side there are no primaries until the 7 March showdown. On the Republican side, there are key contests in South Carolina, Arizona and Michigan - important primarily as they will provide momentum (and newspaper headlines) going into the March poll. On that day more than a dozen states will vote - including some of the biggest like New York and California.

TV campaign

Exit polls from New Hampshire showed a remarkable two in five voters in the Republican primary and one in four in the Democratic primary had actually seen a candidate in person. Meeting and greeting individual voters may be possible in a state with only just over a million inhabitants, but hardly possible in California with more than 30 million inhabitants.



The polls are showing that the heavy defeat in New Hampshire may have punctured the air of inevitability around the Bush campaign.
In other states too, the focus is shifting into a battle for the airwaves.

And the TV ads have already started to get nasty - especially in the Republican race as George Bush tries to halt the McCain momentum. Candidates know the public says it does not like commercials that attack other candidates, but at the same time they also know that these ads have been shown to work.

The almost comical solution that campaigns seem to have hit on is to run negative ads accusing opponents of being negative. Bush's latest ad attacks McCain for 'distorting' Bush's tax plan. In response, an ad was launched that attacked Bush for attacking McCain, claiming he has broken a promise to run a positive campaign.

"Do we really want another politician in the White House America can't trust?" the McCain ad asks.

Bush loses lead

Meanwhile, the polls are showing that the heavy defeat in New Hampshire may have punctured the air of inevitability around the Bush campaign. A number of separate surveys show his previous 20 point lead over John McCain in South Carolina has evaporated.

Equally worryingly for him, George Bush's lead in a hypothetical general election contest against Al Gore has been reduced to only a few percentage points. Since the Texan governor's greatest selling point has always been the sense that he is a 'winner', the weeks after New Hampshire are likely to provide his toughest test.

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See also:
08 Feb 00 |  Americas
Bush expected to win in Delaware
08 Feb 00 |  Americas
Republican's negative campaign row
04 Feb 00 |  Americas
McCain gets NY ballot boost
02 Feb 00 |  Americas
Republicans head south
Links to other Election news stories are at the foot of the page.


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Links to more Election news stories