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Time Running Out For Bush Comeback, GOP Pollster Warns

PRESIDENT Bush's reelection drive remains stalled, despite the installation of a new campaign team headed by former Secretary of State James Baker III.

Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin, at a breakfast meeting with reporters, said Thursday that, with just 46 days left in the campaign, the calendar is now the president's greatest worry. A new poll by Dr. Wirthlin shows Democrat Bill Clinton with a hefty 16-point lead, 55 percent to 39 percent.

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The root of Mr. Bush's political problem is clearly the economy. Since mid-summer, Wirthlin says Americans' concerns about slow economic growth have climbed sharply.

When voters are asked which candidate, Bush or the Arkansas governor, would do a better job creating more jobs, Mr. Clinton has a 41 percent lead. Clinton outpaces Bush by nearly as much, 40 percent, when Americans are asked which one would do a better job at improving the health care system.

Political problems now are showing up for Bush in unexpected places.

Wirthlin's poll shows that the all-Southern team of Clinton and his running mate, Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, have opened a surprising 26-point lead in Dixie. In recent elections, the South was a base of strength for Bush and his Republican predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Despite all this gloomy news for the GOP, the president has some advantages. Voters see Bush as far-and-away more qualified to lead the nation during an international crisis.

Bush may also be able to tap into the country's underlying optimism. For example, Wirthlin finds that while Americans are deeply troubled about the economy, most say that they have personally already reached, or expect to reach, "the American dream" of good health, a secure retirement, owning their own home, and having a family.

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