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Sounding Out Washington Dole Leads Gop In State Poll But If Election Were Today, He’d Have Hard Time Ousting Clinton

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole currently leads Republican presidential hopefuls in Washington state but could face a strong challenge from magazine publisher Steve Forbes.

Both Dole and Forbes would have a tough time beating President Clinton in Washington if the general election was held now, according to a poll commissioned by The Spokesman-Review and KHQ-TV.

The reason: Clinton is more popular - or at least, less unpopular - than any of the major Republican challengers.

“Washington voters are just disgusted with everything,” said political analyst Del Ali of Political/Media Research, Inc., which conducted the scientific survey between Feb. 3-5.

The poll offers a snapshot of Washington voters’ opinions as the state prepares to nominate presidential candidates at the March 5 caucuses and the March 26 primary.

Dole, a four-term senator from Kansas, leads the crowded GOP field. Nearly a third of voters who plan to attend caucuses or vote in the primary said they support him.

Two other GOP contenders were virtually tied with Forbes for second place. But Phil Gramm and Pat Buchanan had far higher unfavorable ratings.

Gramm, a Texas senator, was viewed unfavorably by 32 percent, and favorably by 17 percent. Buchanan, a former political commentator, was rated unfavorably by 47 percent and favorably by 20 percent.

Voters surveyed were about equally split on whether they had a positive or negative opinion of Clinton and Forbes. One in 10 surveyed, however, didn’t recognize Forbes’ name.

The other Republican challengers had scant support. Most voters surveyed said they either didn’t recognize or had no opinion of GOP candidates Lamar Alexander, Alan Keyes, Bob Dornan, Richard Lugar and Morry Taylor.

Thirty-nine percent of those polled had a negative opinion of Dole, compared to 29 percent who had a positive opinion.

“After the attacks the liberal special interest groups and the Democratic Party have launched, I’m not surprised,” said Lance Henderson, state director of the Dole Campaign.

“When we launch our campaign, (voters) will find out the truth.”

Eric Rohrbach, state executive director for the Gramm campaign, said the Texas senator’s approval rating wasn’t so troubling because he has not yet actively campaigned in Washington.

Most candidates are focusing exclusively on Iowa, which will hold caucuses next Monday, and New Hampshire, which will have a primary Feb. 20. Only Dole and Gramm have opened offices in Washington.

A special sampling showed few differences between Eastern Washington voters and the rest of the state in the attitudes toward Clinton and his potential challengers.

Clinton leads Dole, Gramm and Forbes in hypothetical matchups for the general election both statewide and in Eastern Washington.

That’s surprising, Ali said, because “Tom Foley and the Democrats were basically dead meat in ‘94.”

That year, Foleywas ousted by Republican George Nethercutt, and five other Democratic members of Congress were defeated.

Henderson, of the Dole campaign, said hypothetical matchups in February are interesting, but not very meaningful. Voters typically don’t make up their minds until the fall and “there hasn’t been a campaign yet where it’s been Clinton against Dole.”

Thursday: Voters rate President Clinton’s job performance.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Republican Primary Race