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Gore, Bush Prepare for Debate As Polls Remain in Dead Heat

By Dan Balz

Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush meet here Tuesday night for the first of three high-stakes debates, as a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll shows that the presidential race remains the closest in at least two decades.

Five weeks before the election, a persistent gender gap continues to define the battle for the White House. The Post-ABC poll showed women strongly supporting the vice president, with men nearly as solid in their support of Bush. The poll also shows that Gore continues to maintain an edge on several issues important to voters this year, including education.

In a four-way contest among likely voters, Gore stood at 48 percent, Bush at 46 percent, only marginally changed from a month ago when the two were even. In the new poll, Green Party nominee Ralph Nader had 3 percent and Reform Party nominee Patrick J. Buchanan had 1 percent. In a two-way match-up, Gore led Bush 51 to 46 percent.

The inability of either candidate to gain an obvious advantage in the race has helped to heighten the stakes for the debates, which will provide Bush and Gore with their best and perhaps last opportunity to influence wavering or undecided voters.

Both campaigns recognize that the candidate who makes the best impression on the voters in the debates will emerge with a possibly decisive edge heading into the final weeks of campaigning.

Tuesday’s debate, sponsored by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, will run for 90 minutes, beginning at 9 p.m. EDT and will be held at the University of Massachusetts at Boston campus near the John F. Kennedy presidential library here.

The debate will be aired on most major television networks and cable news networks, with the exception of NBC and Fox. PBS’ Jim Lehrer will moderate all three of the presidential forums.