The Bush Bounce

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Welcome to the bounce. A TIME/CNN poll taken in the wake of George W. Bush's announcement of Dick Cheney as his presumptive veep has Bush leading Al Gore 52 percent to 36 percent, up from 48-42 in a similar poll taken in mid-June.

Not bad, considering that a typical post-convention bounce is 6 to 10 percent, and that Bush — after choosing a running mate hardly designed to win many new converts — hasn't even left for Philadelphia yet. Bounces come when big political headlines awaken sleeping voters. The GOP hopes that with a majority still telling pollsters they've given "little or no thought" to November, a four-day, sheathed-dagger infomercial in the City of Brotherly Love will make a lasting first impression. The announcement may be over, but the unveiling is yet to come.

Not that these polls matter much. Dukakis and Bush Sr. both had bigger summer leads than this melt away in the falls of 1988 and 1992, respectively. In 1988, the thrill of the Massachusetts governor — and the pall on the veep — both wore off when folks started reading up and decided that more of the same was OK by them. In 1992, they wanted something different.

Does the electorate regret its choice? With his pick of Ford-Reagan-Bush Republican Cheney, and his interview in USA Today on Friday ("People are going to hear at the convention about how proud I am to be George Bush's son"), Bush seems increasingly willing to bank on just that. By picking a veep with so many Republican echoes — and so much more experience than George W. himself — Bush has certainly energized his base. Some 78 percent of registered Republicans said they were satisfied with Bush-Cheney, compared to the Dole ticket's 48 percent four years ago.

But he also may have fumbled his chance to offer undecideds what they just might crave. Not Reagan/Bush, not Clinton/Gore, but again, something different. In their sniping at Cheney, the Gore camp is trumpeting the GOP ticket's apparent tent shrinkage — and then signaling that the veep may go left with his own running mate. Base against base. Labor against management. Poor against rich.

For definition in a matchup that can seem to lack it, it sure beats "progress and prosperity" against "compassionate conservatism." But for Gore, who's already way behind on personality points, it may be a poor way to reach the slender middle that decides most national elections.