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Threatening forecast has Democrats on edge

As possibly one of the closest presidential elections in decades takes place tomorrow, there's one thing that even the smartest political spin doctor can't control - the weather.

But that doesn't stop them from worrying about it.

Aides to Vice President Gore are fretting about a storm brewing in the plains that could suppress Democratic turnout in key states in the Midwest and South.

“I'm confident about everything except the weather,” said Donna Brazile, Mr. Gore's campaign manager who is receiving hourly weather bulletins on her pager.

In Toledo, forecasters are calling for showers and a high of 58 degrees. But with the state leaning heavily toward Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the weather is unlikely to play any role.

But in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Mr. Gore must win in order to have any shot at succeeding President Clinton, the predicted rain may be a concern.

“That could really hurt turnout,” Ms. Brazile said.

It's conventional wisdom that bad weather keeps more Democratic voters than Republicans from the polls.

In 1951, Republicans were swept to an 8-1 majority on the Toledo city council - it had been a 5-4 Democratic majority - after a winter storm pelted the area during the afternoon. The weather-related vote reversal allegedly proved the adage that Republicans vote on their way to work; Democrats on their way home.

Despite the predicted showers for Detroit and the rest of Michigan, Democrats remain confident that their voters will show up to support Mr. Gore.

“We don't expect the rain to have a detrimental effect,” Dennis Denno, Michigan State Democratic Party spokesman, said. “It may slow down operations a little. People are excited to vote.”

Why are Ms. Brazile and others worried about rain in Pittsburgh and Petoskey? It's simple math: Pennsylvania has 23 electoral votes and Michigan 18. Both states are needed by the Gore campaign in order to have any chance at getting the necessary 270 electoral votes.

In Florida, another critical state to both campaigns, its 25 electoral votes are unlikely to be affected by weather. The forecast calls for voters in the northwest part of the state to head to the polls under cloudy skies and a chance of showers. In the remainder of the state, clearing skies and highs in the mid to upper 60s are expected.

In Ohio, the rain is not expected to be heavy or long lasting.

“There does not look like any severe weather in Ohio,” said Kim Patti, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc., a private forecasting service in State College, Pa. “There are a few showers and some periods of higher rainfall [predicted].”

The forecast calls for less than an inch of rain in Ohio, Ms. Patti said. Pennsylvania also has a forecast for rain, and Michigan voters should experience more steady rain, she said.

Thunderstorms are also likely to move through the southeast, including Georgia, a state with 13 electoral votes where Texas Gov. George Bush has a slim lead, and where the Gore campaign is hoping to gain an edge.

Election officials believe 69 per cent of Lucas County's 298,666 registered voters will cast ballots.

Weather does affect voting, according to Larry Loutzenhiser, deputy director of the county election board.

“It depends on how long it rains,” Mr. Loutzenhiser said. Typically, he said, bad weather can have a negative effect on turnout. However, with the race for president so close, he said that theory may not apply.

In 1992, the city recorded a trace of rain and more than 202,000 voters turned out.

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