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banner Monday, 4 September, 2000, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
No clear leader on Labor Day
Gore at an all-night diner: a round-the-clock marathon to clinch his lead
Gore seeking the night-workers' vote on his round-the-clock tour
By US affairs analyst Gordon Corera

In days gone by, Labor Day was the traditional kick-off for the full presidential election campaign.

Candidates would spend the weeks after the conventions preparing themselves and conserving energy for the final battle of the last two months.

But such has been the ferocity and intensity of campaigning over the last few weeks that this time it will be hard to tell the difference.

And, as many predicted at the start, this election now seems extremely close and will go down to the wire.

Crucial kiss

The last month has also proved wrong those who say that conventions do not matter.

After spending virtually the whole campaign trailing George W Bush by double digit margins, polls after the conventions show Al Gore either tied or in the lead, altering the whole dynamic of the presidential race.

Geroge W Bush
A man in a hurry: Bush is now on the defensive
In Los Angeles, Al Gore finally managed to come out of Clinton's shadow for the first time and establish himself as his 'own man', not least by the big kiss he planted on his wife, Tipper.

As with the whole of his speech, many journalists and pundits were not particularly impressed but the watching public did find that they liked what they saw.

According to Gallup polls, during the Democratic Convention, the number of people who thought that Gore was a strong and decisive leader rose by 28% and the number who said that he was someone who they would be proud to have as president rose by 26%.

These figures indicate that Gore successfully took the opportunity the convention offered of getting people to reassess him positively as a candidate and prospective president.

His populist themes of fighting for working families seems to be hitting home while Bush has been forced onto the defensive over his tax and spending plans.

Which precedent?

Even if it does not necessarily mark a major change in the pace of the campaign any more, Labor Day still has its own significance.

In the last four elections, the leader after Labor Day has gone on to win the election - although if you go back further in time there are examples of the race tightening considerably, or even of a major reversal in the last two months.

Al Gore kissing Tipper at the Democratic Convention
That kiss: The Gores woo party supporters
The most notable case was in 1948 when Harry Truman upset all the pollsters by coming from behind to win on election day.

And since 1936 there have been only two occasions when, at this point in the campaign, the two candidates were effectively in a dead heat as the candidates are now.

In 1960, the first Gallup poll conducted in September had Richard Nixon at 47% of the vote and John F. Kennedy at 46%.

In the end Kennedy won by less than 1%.

Meanwhile in 1980, Carter and Reagan were both on 39% at the start of September but Reagan pulled ahead as election day neared and won by 10%.

Getting nasty

It is hard to say which model will apply this time but Gore's rise in the polls undoubtedly has Republicans worried, particularly as it has echoes of the last time a vice-president won an election.

In 1988 it was Bush's father who trailed going into the conventions, but came out with a lead which he never lost through to election day.

In a sign of its apprehension, the Bush campaign hit back on 31 August as it unveiled a new commercial attacking Gore's credibility and constant reinventions using footage of the vice-president attending a controversial fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple.

As the race tightens, it also seems to be getting nastier.

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See also:

04 Sep 00 | Election news
White House race on home straight
23 Aug 00 | Election news
Conventions give US race momentum
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