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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaigns Target 'Big Five' States

CHICAGO -- Start on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River and head west -- across Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan -- then skip across Lake Michigan to Illinois' furthest edge. Welcome to Main Street of Campaign 1996 -- the road President Bill Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole will travel almost obsessively through the Nov. 5 election.

The Big Five states traversed by this 1,600-kilometer-long causeway provide 99 electoral votes, better than one-third of the 270 needed to win the White House. And with the nation's two biggest states, California and New York, seemingly denied to Dole as things look now, Republicans acknowledge that their standard-bearer must win at least three of the Big Five to defeat Clinton. (Democrats claim that Dole really needs four.)

The good news for Clinton, coming out of last week's convention, is that based on recent surveys, he would sweep all five if the election were held today.

The hope for Dole rests on the reality that the election is still nine weeks off -- and that either his own stratagems, some Clinton blunder or some unforeseen external event will turn the tide in his favor.

"These states make up the great industrial heartland,'' said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. "The people who live there are common-sense, middle-class, solid citizens who look at New York and California as cultural extremes.''

But even Republicans concede that it will take a revelation bearing more directly on Clinton than the recent sex-for-hire allegation that forced the resignation of top strategist Dick Morris to have significant impact on the presidential contest in the Big Five states or anywhere else.

What adds to the importance of the Big Five is that in recent presidential elections, they have voted as a bloc. In the three elections of the 1980s, all five states lined up behind Republican candidates Ronald Reagan and George Bush. In 1992, all reversed themselves and wound up in Clinton's corner.

As the Republicans see it, the target of choice for their candidate in the Big Five states is the economy, with his chief weapon his proposal for sweeping cuts in tax rates.

But in Michigan, Dole "has to convince people that the tax cut is real and that it will work,'' said independent pollster Ed Sarpolus, who is based in the state.

Clinton faces his own challenges in the Big Five. "The president has to respond to economic insecurity that people in these states feel in ways that demonstrate he shares their values,'' Mellman said.