BELTWAY: The outcome of the election looks certain, but the spin will keep us entertained 'til November

Nothing now seems to stand in the way of a repeat of 1992 and 1996: a substantial victory for the Democratic ticket. It led in national polls, the state polls are shifting in its favor and the near-certainty of a Democratic House now has spread to the strong possibility of a Democratic Senate.

Nothing now seems to stand in the way of a repeat of 1992 and 1996: a substantial victory for the Democratic ticket. It led in national polls, the state polls are shifting in its favor and the near-certainty of a Democratic House now has spread to the strong possibility of a Democratic Senate.

Nothing now seems to stand in the way of a repeat of 1992 and 1996: a substantial victory for the Democratic ticket. It led in national polls, the state polls are shifting in its favor and the near-certainty of a Democratic House now has spread to the strong possibility of a Democratic Senate.

This analysis is, indeed, a traditional one, considering both conventions are passed, with the Republicans getting only a mild lift and the Democrats a huge one, based chiefly on Gore's acceptance speech and his appearance of strength and independence. In addition, the 'suspense' of the VP candidate selection seems to have bounced in favor of the Democrats, who broke significant ground with the selection of Lieberman. Meanwhile, the Republicans seem to have stumbled badly by reaching back for the colorless Richard Cheney, a figure from the '70s and '80s and a reminder of George Bush Sr.

That leaves only the debates or, really, 'The Debates.' The reason most analysts are ready to concede the election to the Democrats is Gore's demonstrated skill and style in defeating (if not destroying) Dan Quayle in 1992, Jack Kemp in 1996 and Ross Perot in a special match along the way, on the subject of free trade.

Nothing in the record of Governor Bush suggests he will benefit from 'The Debates,' but a splendid PR-spin campaign is developing, which may even distract us from what is now foreseen as the inevitable result.

We now see the spectacle of - in ornithological terms - 'the double-winged lowball,' not a bird but the work in both camps to enlarge the skills of the opponent and diminish that of the spinner. Thus, the Bush folks trumpet Gore's renowned skill as a debater and their own candidate's homespun technique, while the Gore people point to Bush's upset victory in a debate with his predecessor, Ann Richards, and Gore's own reputation for stolidity and even boredom.

Then there will be arguments over the time, number and place of the debates.

The self-appointed Commission on Presidential Debates committed the gaucherie of scheduling one debate at the JFK library in Boston, sure to be canceled unless Gore will agree to the Hoover library as another site.

The Bush camp has hinted it would like a 'softer' format as opposed to a formal, correspondent-questioning debate. Maybe a Fox Network 'correspondent' could float conservative softballs to the candidates, or Dr. Laura could think up real zingers on social questions.

But whatever the spinning, there will be debates, and there will be an election and, these days, the result is easy to guess.



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