- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio is bracing for its closest presidential election ever, with 20 Electoral College votes critical to victory for both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

The final Columbus Dispatch poll showed a mere eight-vote gap in a survey of almost 3,000 voters, while phalanxes of lawyers from both parties stand poised to challenge the results and demand recounts.

The most fiercely fought battleground of this politically diverse state is Franklin County, the state’s second-most populous, which includes the city of Columbus and its suburbs.

“Historically, Republican candidates have enjoyed strength throughout the state of Ohio,” said Republican political consultant Brett Sciotto, who is based in a Columbus suburb. “Franklin will be close. It really comes down to the turnout game.”

The Bush campaign brags about an unprecedented grass-roots effort for Republicans that it is convinced will make the difference today.

“The president’s campaign volunteers and supporters have unleashed a massive, grass-roots voter-contact operation in Ohio that is firing on all cylinders as we make the final push toward victory,” Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said.

The campaign has made more than 2.5 million phone calls to Ohioans in the past several weeks and has chairmen poised to organize today’s effort in every county in the state.

The Kerry campaign, meanwhile, has left most of the task of mobilizing Democrats in Ohio to independent “527” groups, such as the liberal Americans Coming Together and Planned Parenthood, which are paying as many as 45,000 people to get out the vote.

Although the traditionally Democratic Rust Belt area in the north is expected to go for Mr. Kerry, he must win there by a wide margin to compensate for the lead that Mr. Bush is likely to roll up in the more conservative south and west.

Kerry-Edwards campaign spokesman Tad Devine said they and the 527 groups that support the Democratic candidate have spent more money — and spent it more wisely — than the Bush campaign in Ohio in the past week.

“We see ourselves positioned to win,” Mr. Devine said. “The president [has] a problem in terms of his horse-race numbers, unable to get to where he needs to be to win. His wrong-track number are very high, job-approval very low for the president consistently.”

The final Dispatch poll produced the tightest margin in the survey’s history. Out of 2,880 likely voters polled from across the state, Mr. Kerry eked out just an eight-vote edge. Mr. Kerry, however, seemed to have the momentum, closing what had been a seven percentage-point gap for the president.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll gave Mr. Bush a 50 percent to 47 percent lead in Ohio. The last Ohio Poll, released by the University of Cincinnati yesterday, put the race tighter. Mr. Bush led Mr. Kerry by 50.1 percent to 49.2 percent. A Zogby poll gave Mr. Bush a four-point lead, 48 percent to 44 percent.

The only poll taken through Sunday that put Mr. Kerry in the lead, besides the Dispatch survey, was a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. It gave the Democrat the support of 50 percent and Mr. Bush 46 percent.

Another variable here is the weather. Heavy rain is forecast for much of the state today, and gloomy skies normally mean a gloomy turnout for Democrats.

“If the weather is bad, that will keep some people home,” Mr. Sciotto said. “It will be harder to get people who’ve never voted before out there to the polls. Those who vote often, mostly Republicans, will probably get out there regardless.”

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