Washington — The 2004 presidential campaign nears the finish line with Florida, New Hampshire and six battleground states in the Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes up for grabs, according to a series of state polls for Knight Ridder and MSNBC released Saturday.
President George W. Bush, the Republican, held strong leads in three of the 15 battleground states surveyed -- Arkansas, Colorado, and West Virginia -- all states he carried in 2000. He held a six-point lead in Nevada and narrower leads in six others.
Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, held a six-point lead in Oregon and narrower leads in four other battleground states.
The leads held by either candidate in 12 of the 15 states were within the polls' margin of error, meaning that statistically they were too close to call with any confidence. In addition, between 4 and 7 percent of the voters in each state remained undecided heading into this weekend.
The closeness of the race and the large number of states still in play underscored the urgency each side felt as they sent their candidates flying around the country and legions of volunteers out to knock on doors in the hours remaining until polls close Tuesday evening. Voter turnout will be critical to victory and neither side can afford to leave any supporter sitting the election out.
Bush, Kerry and their running mates will barnstorm the battleground states almost nonstop in the final days -- jumping around what Kerry turnout-strategist Michael Whouley calls a "three-dimensional chess board" as they try to hold their parties' base states and win away states from their rivals.
TV networks color-code the map of competitive states red for states that went Republican in 2000 and blue for those that went Democrat.
Bush intends to travel today and Monday to the red states of Florida and Ohio and the blue states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico before returning to his Texas ranch Monday evening. Vice President Dick Cheney was to travel to Hawaii tonight, where Republicans think they have a surprising shot at winning the normally Democratic state.
Kerry planned to campaign today and Monday in the red states of Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio as well as the blue states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards planned to campaign in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa Sunday.
What the polls show
Here was what they faced in those states, according to a series of new polls taken Wednesday through Friday night by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research:
Among likely voters in battleground states carried by Bush in 2000, he led in Arkansas by 51-43 percent; in Colorado by 50-43 percent; in Florida by 49-45 percent; in Missouri by 49-44 percent; in Nevada by 50-44 percent; in Ohio by 48-46 percent; and in West Virginia by 51-43 percent.
Bush trailed in one red state -- New Hampshire -- where Kerry led 47-46 percent.
|The Associated PressWhere the candidates plan to campaign today:John Kerry: Campaigns in Dayton, Ohio; Manchester, N.H.; and Tampa, Fla. Overnights in Orlando, Fla.John Edwards: Campaigns in Jacksonville, Fla; Greensburg, Pa., and Waterloo, Iowa. Overnights in Minneapolis.President Bush: Campaigns in Miami, Tampa and Gainesville, Fla., and Cincinnati. Overnights in Cincinnati.Vice President Dick Cheney: Campaigns in Toledo, Ohio; Romulus, Mich.; Fort Dodge, Iowa; Las Lunas, N.M., and Honolulu.|
If Bush holds all of the red states he won in 2000, he would win a second term with 278 electoral votes, eight more than the 270 needed. If he loses only New Hampshire and its four electoral votes, he would still win with 274. But if he loses a bigger state that he carried before, such as Ohio or Florida, where the race remains very tight, he would have to win away one or more blue states to keep his job.
Among likely voters in "blue" states carried by Democrat Al Gore in 2000, Bush led 49-44 percent in Iowa; 49-45 percent in New Mexico; and 48-47 percent in Minnesota. Kerry led 47-45 percent in Michigan; 50-44 percent in Oregon; and 48-46 percent in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Mason-Dixon conducted the polls of 625 to 800 likely voters in each state from Oct. 26-29. Mason Dixon also surveyed Colorado for The Denver Post; Florida for several news organizations including The Miami Herald and Tallahassee Democrat; Minnesota for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio; Nevada for the Las Vegas Review Journal; and New Mexico for the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Most of the state polls had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Polls of Colorado, Florida and Nevada had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
"I think Bush has the inside track," said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker. "But some of these races are so close we don't know which way they'll break.