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A pollster's view of why Dukakis has lost his lead

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``Phenomenal.'' California pollster Mervin Field uses that word to describe the swift, coast-to-coast shift in public opinion during the past month in the 1988 election campaign.

Mr. Field, who collects data state by state on the presidential contest, says that over the past few weeks, Michael Dukakis has lost his once commanding leads in a number of key states, including California.

Just before the Republican convention, Mr. Dukakis had an edge in 24 states with 353 electoral votes (270 are needed for election).

That base has shrunk to 14 states with 132 electoral votes, while George Bush is ahead in 19 states with 156 electoral votes, he says.

Though many analysts say the momentum now lies with Mr. Bush, Field says some of the largest states, with a total of 250 electoral votes, are still tossups.

Field's nationwide survey finds that after a summer marked by rapidly changing public opinion, various regions of the country are returning to their customary political habits.

Thus, such traditionally Democratic states as Minnesota, West Virginia, and Rhode Island are solidly in the Dukakis column, according to the most recent data. Others, such as New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Maryland, Oregon, and Hawaii, are leaning Democratic.

At the same time, after some initial Republican concern, states like Florida, Indiana, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and Alabama appear firmly behind Mr. Bush.

The state-by-state survey shows where the real battlefields will be:

1.California. Democrats like pollster Peter Hart say they can't win without it. But Bush, with Republican Gov. George Deukmejian at his side, stumps California so often he almost seems to be running for state office.

2.Texas. Bush is ahead, but a recent poll put him just three points in front - not enough to be comfortable.

3.The big, Northern industrial states. In the tossup group are Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. If Bush wins just two of those, Dukakis could be hurt. They comprise a vital Democratic target area, needed as a counterweight to Bush strength in the South and the Rocky Mountain West.

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