The presidential race is tightening in Washington and Idaho as voters in the two states continue to support two very different approaches to federal taxes and spending.
Washington voters are overwhelmingly more likely to say they want the next president to skip tax cuts and concentrate on balancing the budget, according to a statewide scientific survey conducted late last week. That’s a point President Clinton has made for weeks on the campaign trail.
Idaho voters are slightly more likely to say the next president should emphasize stimulating the economy by cutting taxes, a similar survey in the Gem State said. Republican Bob Dole is proposing a 15 percent across-the-board tax cut to provide such an economic boost.
The two surveys suggest that Clinton would win Washington state’s 11 Electoral College votes if the election were held now, while Dole would win Idaho’s four votes.
But Dole is closing the gap substantially in Washington, while Clinton has experienced a slight improvement in Idaho.
“Dole’s recent attacks on Clinton are having some effect, and the president’s popularity has slipped over the past two weeks in Washington,” said Del Ali, an analyst for Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc.
In Idaho, Clinton remains unpopular with about half of the voters, but Dole’s negative rating has also increased, Ali said.
Both polls were conducted for The Spokesman-Review and KHQ-TV in Spokane. The Washington poll was co-sponsored by KING-TV in Seattle, while the Idaho poll was cosponsored by KTVB-TV in Boise.
“That’s absolutely wonderful news,” Rich Munson, Spokane County co-chairman for Dole, said of the results that show his candidate only 9 percentage points behind.
A poll in early October suggested the margin to be about 21 percentage points.
“I’m wondering if the new-found problems with the foreign money is having any effect,” Munson said, referring to allegations that the Democratic National Committee accepted illegal contributions from foreign citizens and corporations.
Joe Cerrell, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said races traditionally tighten as the election draws near.
“To some degree, it acts as an alarm bell to any overconfidence that may be lingering,” Cerrell said.
In Idaho, where Dole continues to maintain a substantial lead, the state director for Clinton said the campaign has refrained from discussing polls.
“We believe that (tightening) to be true. We’re optimistic,” said Rachel Joseph.
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the Idaho Dole campaign, said he expected the race to get closer as the election nears.
“Some people are making up their minds based on a barrage of negative ads” against Dole, he said. “But Dole’s still going to carry Idaho.”
Reform Party Candidate Ross Perot appears to be gaining strength, but remains a distant third in both states.
“Dole’s overtures to Perot have put the Texas billionaire back in the spotlight, and it has helped him recover a little popularity,” Ali said.
Perot also began a major national advertising campaign in the last two weeks that could be boosting his support.
Surveys of the two states throughout this election year have repeatedly found that voters have different views of how to address the budget deficit. In one previous poll, a majority of Washington voters said they didn’t believe the federal government could balance the budget and cut their taxes. A majority of Idaho voters said they believed the government could do both.
In the current polls, almost twice as many Washington voters said they wanted the next president to concentrate on balancing the budget without a major tax change rather stimulating the economy through a tax cut. In Idaho, voters were more evenly split, but slightly more said the next president should go the route of economyboosting tax cuts.
Cerrell said the survey suggests Clinton is more in tune with Washington voters by bringing the deficit down four years in a row.
Munson said the figures suggest the Dole campaign needs to do a better job of conveying a key element of the Republican nominee’s tax proposal: “He’s said dozens of times, if he can’t balance the budget, he’s not going to push the tax cut.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 graphics: 1. The presidential sweepstakes 2. Tax cuts or a balanced budget?