Polling in some Deep South states shows Gore getting less than one-fifth of the vote from fellow white males. The Gore campaign talks of carrying states such as Georgia and North Carolina and insists it will make a strong push in Florida. But privately, Southern Democrats hold out little hope at this point.
An influential Democratic strategist, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Clinton "hurts us an awful lot" with swing voters, including parents with young children who want the president to set a good example for the country.
As many as one-third of the voters who approve of Clinton's job performance but disapprove of him personally are supporting Bush, according to recent polling by Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake for Voter.com.
That might help explain why Gore is not benefiting more from the peace and prosperity that usually favor the party in power in the White House.
The race for the White House is also a competition for the votes of independent swing voters and others loosely tied to the two major parties. Voters older than 55, women of all ages, Catholics and residents of older suburbs are among the major targets in the election.
Matthew Dowd, director of polling for the Bush campaign, says the Texas governor is doing better with younger, middle-class men than recent Republican nominees.
Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security has appeal to these voters, both sides agree.
Gore is wooing their female counterparts, "moms that get up and drop their kids off and go to work all day," says Harrison Hickman, the Gore campaign's pollster. "We're not talking about soccer moms."
One of the reasons Gore has had trouble getting voters to know him "is because of peace and prosperity," Hickman added. Voters are tuned out of politics because "there are no critical issues that galvanize people."
That could mean the presidential campaign won't really take off until October, after the Olympics end and the debates begin.
Bush's personal popularity has propelled him to an early lead over Gore in the broad battleground region that stretches from New Jersey west to Minnesota and down the Mississippi through Missouri.