DAYTON, OHIO John Kerry and President Bush began a final, two-day blitz through the most competitive battlegrounds Sunday, with Kerry wooing his base at a black church, preaching a gospel of economic hardship and hope, and the president crisscrossing Florida, questioning his challenger's credentials to keep the nation safe from terrorists.
Two days before the election, the candidates and their running mates were in a frenetic race, circling each other and pressing whatever advantage they have.
New polls continued to paint an extraordinarily close race and an electorate divided by the same fissures that have shaped the political landscape since the disputed election of 2000. Officials in both campaigns said they detected no significant trend in either direction since the release of a videotaped message by Osama bin Laden Friday afternoon.
The latest Washington Post tracking poll showed Bush and Kerry each with 48 percent and independent Ralph Nader at 1 percent. A Pew Research Poll released Sunday put it Bush 48 percent, Kerry 45 percent, with a prediction of much higher turnout on Tuesday than in 2000. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll put Bush at 48 percent and Kerry at 47 percent.
State polls offered few clues as to the outcome, with Ohio and Florida still the most significant and hotly contested states. Strategists on both sides expressed optimism Sunday about their candidate's chances of winning Florida and said Ohio remains too close to call.
Getting out the vote
The Democratic and Republican parties unleashed the biggest and most aggressive voter-mobilization drives in the history of presidential politics Sunday, tapping hundreds of thousands of volunteers and paid organizers in a final effort to tip the balance in a handful of states where the election will be decided Tuesday.
Mixing sophisticated techniques to identify potential supporters with old-fashioned shoe leather and face-to-face contact to woo loyal and sporadic voters, the two campaigns will contact millions of Americans -- many of them more than once -- in the final hours of the campaign and then track them Election Day to ensure they have gone to the polls.
The unprecedented efforts underscore the conviction of officials in both campaigns that with the race so close in so many states, the key to victory depends more than in any recent campaign on their ability to win the battle of the streets, and in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico, opposing armies fanned out under blazing sun or cold, drizzly skies to reach as many voters as possible.
"At this stage, we're down to blocking and tackling," Jason Mauk, chief spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said Sunday. "You're running the plays and you've got to execute. It's basic hard work -- there's no flair. It's grabbing people one person at a time, maybe two or three in a household and making sure they get to the polls.
"Whoever has a more effective get-out-the-vote effort is going to take Ohio."
Domestic vs. foreign
Kerry, in Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida, looked to make his case with domestic issues in the homestretch. Polls show voters see issues such as the economy and health care as the Democrat's strength.
Kerry never mentioned his opponent by name in short remarks from the pulpit at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Dayton, but the references were unmistakable, as he quoted scriptures and recited "Amazing Grace." He spoke of diminished after-school care, expensive health care and job losses.
"There is a standard by which we have to live," Kerry said. "Coming to church on Sundays and talking about faith and professing faith isn't the whole deal ... .I hear politicians talk about values but I don't see them."
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney also moved to secure their base and stuck to their perceived strength, national security. Speaking to a rally filled with Cuban-Americans in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood, Bush said Kerry "entered the flip-flop hall of fame" for his assertion that he had voted for, then against, an $87 billion package to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"If you believe America should fight the war on terror with all her might and lead with unwavering confidence, I ask you, come stand by me," Bush said to cries of "Viva Bush."
|Today, President Bush launches his final campaign offensive, visiting five hard-fought states -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, and New Mexico -- before ending the day in his home state of Texas with a late-night rally in Dallas.Sen. John Kerry planned to open today with a rally in Orlando, Fla. Then he heads to Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio, before spending the night in La Crosse, Wis.|
Bush also made a direct appeal to Cuban-Americans, saying, "We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on, until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedoms in Havana they received here in America."
Although Bush's remarks continue to be aimed heavily at the concerns of his most fervent supports, his remarks Sunday included an extra bit of outreach. "If you are a Democrat who believes your great party has turned too far left in this year, I ask you, come stand with me," he said. "If you are a minority citizen and you believe in free enterprise and good schools and the enduring values of family and faith, if you're tired of your vote being taken for granted, I ask you, come stand with me."
Cheney accused Kerry of turning his back on the troops because of his political ambition. Kerry "is not a steadfast leader. Our president is," Cheney told several hundred Republican supporters in Toledo at an airplane hangar. He later referred to Kerry as "a wanna-be commander-in chief."
Cheney was the only one of the four candidates Sunday to mention the bin Laden tape. At a gathering of activists at GOP headquarters in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Cheney slammed Kerry's staff for telling reporters about results of a poll question about the tape.
"John Kerry's first response was to conduct a poll to find out what he should say about this tape of Osama Bin Laden," Cheney said. "He didn't know what to say before he checked polls, he had to stick his finger in the air ... . George Bush doesn't need a poll to say what he believes, especially about Osama Bin Laden." Cheney added that bin Laden is "obviously trying to have an impact on our elections ... trying to frighten Americans."
Cheney was referring to a question in a poll taken by Democracy Corps, a Democratic group, in which voters said by more that 10 points that the re-emergence of bin Laden made them "think that George Bush took his eye off the ball in Afghanistan and diverted resources to Iraq."
Kerry, however, made his comments about the bin Laden tape Friday afternoon. The poll was taken Friday night and Saturday.
More than 10,000 Kerry supporters showed up to greet the Massachusetts senator in Manchester, N.H. at a festive rally, where Boston's new heroes, John Henry and Tom Werner, owners of World Series-winning Red Sox, introduced Kerry. Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling endorsed Bush on a Thursday morning television show.
At the Shiloh Baptist Church in Dayton, Kerry was greeted warmly by about 1,000 members of the congregation. The minister mistakenly called him Sen. Kennedy four times. Rev. Selwyn Bachus also drew some parallels to Halloween.
"Certainly over these past few years we're experienced some nightmares here in the state of Ohio, " he said. "We lost some 200,000 jobs, our seniors having to go to Canada to get prescription drugs ... our young people's blood flowing in the streets ... . In this city and cities all across the country. It's been a nightmare but we have the chance to help Sen. Kerry bring the nightmare to an end."