Voters Await First Presidential Debate

Barring the unforeseen, Vice President Al Gore '69 and Texas Governor George W. Bush will head into the campaign season's first presidential debate on Tuesday at parity in the national polls and closely matched in the Electoral College.

For both candidates, September was bruising, energy draining, and edifying. Coming out of the Democratic Convention in August, Gore was buoyed by one of the largest bounces in recent election cycles. His standing among women voters improved significantly, the press coverage of his campaign was less harsh, and Democrats felt optimistic about his chances.

By media standards, Bush began September in a bind. There were the gaffes: his admission that he didn't effectively articulate his tax plan; his decision to spur the debate offer of a bipartisan commission; a series of televised malaprops. But by Labor Day, Bush had evened the Gore convention bounce. The two were tied in the polls. A month later, after 18-hour days of give-and-take, neither side has given an inch.

"It's a dead even race," says Clyde Wilcox, a political science professor at Georgetown University. "There have been two conventions and two convention bounces," said.

There are more registered Democrats than registered Republicans, but differences across states tend to smooth over the difference.

About 37 percent of the electorate--consider themselves independents. Of them, those likely to vote are hard to pin down. They swing.

Many earn between $25,000 an $50,000 and live in suburbs. With these voters, there is little traction.

According to Alan Crockett, a pollster with John Zogby's firm, no candidate has been elected president since 1972 without winning this group.