- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Three polls showing the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey is a dead heat in the presidential election have put back in play a state that last supported a Republican in 1988, pollsters said.

Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert for the American Enterprise Institute, said she has been surprised by the latest polls in New Jersey, but believes they have validity.

“I think one of three explanations are possible,” she said. “One, New Jersey just hasn’t warmed up to Kerry, who may seem to many to be a Northeastern patrician liberal. Two, New Jersey’s closeness to New York City and the September 11 attacks. And three, just a weariness of Democratic political scandals in the state.”

Tuesday’s Strategic Vision poll of the state, which supported Democrat Al Gore by a 16-point margin in 2000, put the race at 44 percent for both President Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

A Quinnipiac poll last week showed a 48 percent split, and a Rasmussen poll released Monday gave Mr. Kerry a 49 percent to 46 percent lead over Mr. Bush, well within the five-point margin of error.

Pollster and New Jersey resident Scott Rasmussen thinks one poll is a fluke, two polls are intriguing, but three polls show a trend.

“For a long time after the attacks, we didn’t see a 9/11 impact in the polls,” Mr. Rasmussen said. “But I suspect that some Democrats are having some doubts about John Kerry.”

Democrats and the Kerry campaign dismissed the polls and are confident that their candidate will grab the state’s 15 electoral votes.

“If anyone thinks George W. Bush is going to win New Jersey, then we’ve got a turnpike to sell them,” said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer. “New Jersey voters are late deciders and are going to be with John Kerry when all is said and done.

“They don’t want another four years of George Bush’s wrong policies and will vote for John Kerry and his plan to get the country going in the right direction again,” he said.

But in a sign that the Kerry campaign is worried about the state, vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards made an appearance at a hastily arranged rally in Newark on Tuesday. It was the first time that the Kerry campaign had entered New Jersey for any event but a fund-raiser.

“We will win New Jersey, and we will win New Jersey strongly,” Mr. Edwards said. “I’m completely confident of that.”

Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said New Jersey is now a “state that we are watching very closely” and hinted that if the current numbers hold, a presidential visit or ad buy is possible. To date, the campaign had not used resources in a state that is considered a Democratic lock.

“I’m sure the Kerry campaign didn’t expect to have to defend New Jersey in the final weeks of the campaign,” Mr. Stanzel said. “It’s one that we’ll watch and see if there are opportunities. It’s just another sign that we are aggressively campaigning in areas where John Kerry should be ahead.”

The only poll taken this month that shows Mr. Kerry with a clear lead in New Jersey is an American Research Group survey from Sept. 16 that gives the Democrat a 50 percent to 42 percent advantage over Mr. Bush.w

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