(CNSNews.com) - A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll released Monday shows Republican George W Bush and Democrat Al Gore in a close race for president, and it appears that Gore lacks strength even in states considered Democratic bastions.
The CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 499 "likely" voters gives Bush 49 percent support, compared with 44 percent for Gore. The five-point difference is within the poll's five-point margin of error, making the race, at the moment, a statistical dead heat.
In the same poll three weeks ago, Bush led Gore 50-41 percent among likely voters. Among registered voters, Bush led Gore 46-45 percent in the poll released Monday.
Pollsters said voters favor Bush as a strong and decisive leader and as someone who is tough on crime. But voters favored Gore on issues such as health care.
An analysis of recent polls indicates that Al Gore is performing worse than expected in states such as Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, which Democrats have carried in the last three presidential elections.
One wire service quotes a Democratic consultant as saying the news is "obviously troubling" for Gore. "These are states he should have in his pocket right now," said Dane Strother.
According to wire reports, political analysts say Gore has been hurt by his perceived flip-flops on the Elian Gonzalez controversy and by recent reminders of Clinton-Gore scandals, including hearings into the White House e-mail snafu.
Analysts also suggest that many Americans simply aren't tuned into the presidential race at this early date.
In recent weeks, Gore seems to have adopted a strategy of hitting Bush where he's perceived to be weak and borrowing from Bush where he's perceived to be strong. That trend continues today, when Gore delivers an anti-crime speech in Atlanta. Among other things, he's expected to criticize Bush's record on rehabilitating Texas inmates.
Gore is also expected to recommend expanded drug testing and drug treatment for prisoners; and federal funds to hire 50,000 new police officers across the country, a program started by President Clinton. He'll also recommend that off-duty police officers be allowed to carry conceal weapons, something that's not allowed in all jurisdictions.
Gore is not expected to attach a price tag to any of the anti-crime initiatives he'll discuss today.
In recent weeks, Gore has gone to great lengths to promote himself over Bush as the "education" candidate. He's even stayed in the homes of teachers as he crosses the country to push elements in his education plan.
In what some are calling a "me-too" speech delivered last week in Texas, Gore adopted parts of Bush's agenda, saying he would hold states and school accountable for helping students achieve high academic standards. Accountability has been a hallmark of Bush's education plan all along.
On the attack front, Gore made headlines Tuesday for challenging Bush's plan to take part of the Social Security system private. Gore said any diversion of payroll taxes to private investment accounts - something Bush favors - would be bad for families, bad for the economy, and detrimental to the Social Security trust fund.
Scare tactics, said the Bush campaign.
It's just six months and a handful of days until the general election in November, and any differences or similarities between the two candidates may become more apparent to voters in the upcoming debates.