Bush, a Leader in Polls, Gets Down to Policy

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The latest New York Times/CBS News poll has George W. Bush running 8 points ahead of Al Gore and leading big in intangibles — he's seen as more of a leader, more presidential, than the veep. Majorities felt Gore was the man on issues like Social Security and education, but didn't seem to feel, somehow, that the second-in-command was up to the top job. Then again, fewer than three in 10 voters say they're paying a lot of attention to the campaign. And the Gore camp must have been positively salivating Monday when Bush got beyond "compassionate conservatism" and John McCain, and actually started making headlines with specifics of what he'd do as president. What he'd do about Social Security, no less.

After Monday's address touting Social Security overhaul as a "test of presidential candidates," Bush is now out front in a big way for some kind of privatization of the retirement system, via individual accounts with "steady, reliable funds." To which Gore, who is running on the economy but still feels compelled to remind folks (especially old folks) that the boom could go bust at any time, replies that a safety net based on one's market savvy isn't a safety net at all. The veep's people admit that the Gore-Bradley wonk-fest that bored everyone stiff during the primaries has left their candidate with not much to talk about. But now Bush is grabbing hold of politics' fabled "third rail" issue (don't touch). He's making a risky play to attract younger voters and win a clear national mandate to genuinely overhaul the aging system. Wait — that actually does sound a little like leadership.