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Poll: Gore Ahead In Calif.

Bucking surveys that show George W. Bush in first place nationally, a poll released Tuesday shows Al Gore leading by 11 percentage points among likely California voters.

In the Field Poll, Gore is ahead 46 to 35 percent in the nation's most populous state, which has 54 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

The vice president's statewide lead is attributed to two-to-one voter support in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area, two regions that account for nearly half of the electorate in California. The poll found Bush holds narrow leads in other, less populated counties of the state.

The poll also found that Californians had a largely favorable image of Gore - 57 percent - compared to 35 percent unfavorable, while images of the Republican presidential candidate were more negative: 41 percent favorable versus 48 percent unfavorable.

Bush is going back to basics in his bid to win California, spending time walking the streets of Democratic strongholds and focusing on key groups, including the 13 percent of voters who are Hispanic.

"I want to energize these people to come back," Bush said aboard his campaign plane Monday. "If I do, I think I can win."

Although the Texas governor doesnt have to worry about Pat Buchanan, who drew only 2 percent, he may be wishing Ralph Nader well. The Green Party candidate appears to be attracting Democratic support by attacking Gore on the environment and other issues. Nader garnered 7 percent in the Field Poll, possibly enough to shake things up.

But Democrats cite their own polls showing good news for the vice president: He isn't dragged down by Clinton in California, and even a majority of Republicans favor legal abortion. And California Hispanics are still fuming at Republicans over Proposition 187, according to a political adviser to Gov. Gray Davis.

"No matter how many sombreros he puts on, no matter how many 'Oles!' he says, the Latino vote in California is just not available to any Republican candidate for president," said Garry South, who ran Davis' successful 1998 campaign against GOP candidate Dan Lungren.

"If you don't live here and you didn't go through the 1994 period with (former Gov.) Pete Wilson you have no concept of the kind of hostility and antagonism that exists between Latinos and Republicans in California," South says.

Bush's latest swing marks his ninth appearance since winning the state's primary in March, and he has said he will not cede the state to his opponent the way his father did in 1992. Gore also makes frequent visits to California.

The poll - with a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points and conducted among 1,003 adults, 642 of whom were considered likely voters - contrasted with two national polls released Friday that showed Bush leading Gore by margins of 10 and 4 percentage points.