BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Change rarely finds its way to Sue's, a turn-of-the-century variety store with a soda fountain, dark cherry wood pharmacy cabinets and cash registers dating to William Howard Taft's administration.
So it's worth noting that the store's regular customers -- independent-minded voters who like politics with their morning coffee -- think it might be time for major change at the White House.
''I voted for Clinton two times and I don't think he did a half-bad job. If I could, I'd vote for him again,'' said Doug Davis, swiping an age-spotted hand through his thick mat of snow-white hair. ''But I think maybe the country is in need of a change. I think maybe I'm voting for the other guy.''
That would be presumptive Republican nominee George W. Bush, not Clinton's vice president, Al Gore.
''I might just be too tired of the Clinton mess. Probably time to clean 'em all out.'' - Ron Strickler Voter
This valley town, like much of central Pennsylvania, leans Republican. But the town's ticket-splitters and independents are plentiful at Sue Green's variety store.
A visitor in late March found the regulars dismissing both Bush and Gore, still wishing that maverick Republican John McCain was in the race. More than three months later, Green's customers are only slightly more engaged: Their opinions about the candidates' policies are vague, especially when it comes to Bush, but their thoughts about the candidates themselves are beginning to take hold.
So far, most find Bush a pleasant alternative to Gore.
''I don't like Gore, personally,'' said Dottie Bird, a 36-year-old hairdresser who said she votes for Democrats and Republicans. She bought a lottery ticket and a coffee to go, stopping to chat on the store's porch where customers watched the morning haze fade into the green valley.
''He was affiliated with Clinton and that Lewinsky mess. If anybody had the power to control (Clinton) it should have been his second-hand man,'' Bird said.
Inside, Bob Benford is seated at a booth, talking to Ron Strickler across a steaming cup of coffee. The semiretired Benford is a ticket-splitter who says Gore is too liberal. He doesn't know much about Bush, ''but he's the lesser of two evils.''
Strickler is more open to the Democratic candidate, but said, ''I might just be too tired of the Clinton mess. Probably time to clean 'em all out.''
Randolph Emmil is at the soda fountain, middle seat, hunched over Green's high-voltage coffee. A camouflage hat hides his eyes. He was sitting the same way in the same place in March, but Emmil's support of Gore seems to have slipped.
''I really don't know because I don't hear too much about him,'' said Emmil, who didn't hesitate three months ago to call himself a Gore backer. ''I don't know much about Bush, either. Gore might be all right, but he hasn't looked much like a leader.''
National polls show Bush with a slight lead over Gore, with the advantage growing since March.
In Pennsylvania, a battleground state with 23 electoral votes, a new poll shows Bush with 44 percent support and Gore with 40 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The same pollster had found the raced deadlocked at 43-43 in late February.
The race here has changed little, despite a $2 million TV ad campaign by the Democratic National Committee to help Gore. No other state got more DNC money, and Republicans spent less than half as much to promote Bush in Pennsylvania.
''My sense is that there hasn't been much shift here in Pennsylvania concerning either candidate -- and that's good for Bush, bad for Gore,'' said Thomas Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. ''The people in Bellefonte seem to have articulated the way I've seen it happen: Gore is being defined by his affiliation with Clinton and Bush is defining himself the way Bush wants to be defined.''
In Bellefonte, Green is putting a Frank Sinatra album on her store's trusty turntable. With Old Blue Eyes singing ''You Make Me Feel So Young,'' the 39-year-old Green turns from the record player to say she hasn't noticed much of a change in her customers' perceptions of the campaign.
''But what I have noticed,'' she said, ''seems to favor Bush.''
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