Monday, April 26, 2004

Sen. John Kerry is trailing or tied with President Bush in many of the battleground states Democrats won in 2000 and that will likely decide the outcome of this year’s elections, according to a survey of polls across the country by The Washington Times.

With six months to go before the November election, Mr. Bush is surprising political pundits and Democratic strategists in key Democratic-leaning states in the Northeast and Midwest.

For example, the president is leading in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two of the nation’s largest industrial states that carry a combined 38 electoral votes, and he is in near-ties with Mr. Kerry in New Jersey, Oregon, Maryland and Iowa — all states that Al Gore won in 2000

Campaign officials for the Massachusetts senator blame their candidate’s erosion in the battleground states on Mr. Bush’s heavy TV ad campaign and say they will turn their polling numbers around once the senator’s new TV ads are fully up and running in these and other targeted states.

“After $55 million of negative attack ads, we should be trailing by double digits, and still we are in a dead heat in Michigan or up by a couple of points in other battleground states,” Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade said.

National and battleground polls over the past several weeks show Mr. Kerry losing ground overall, the result of a concentrated, monthlong ad campaign by Mr. Bush’s strategists, an improving economy and rising public concern about the terrorist threat, which is the president’s strongest issue and his opponent’s weakest, according to most polls.

State pollsters and other political strategists said last week that Mr. Kerry’s decline was also because of a campaign organization that was virtually invisible in big states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Mr. Bush was campaigning heavily.

Although political analysts watch the national polls, the most important election statistics are in the biggest, electoral vote-rich states — and it is here that Mr. Bush is gaining and in some cases overtaking the Massachusetts liberal. Among the states where Mr. Bush’s numbers have improved in recent weeks:

• Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes): An April 13-19 Quinnipiac University poll of 769 registered voters showed Mr. Bush leading Mr. Kerry 46 percent to 42 percent, with 7 percent undecided. When consumer crusader Ralph Nader is included, Mr. Bush leads 45 percent to 39 percent, with 8 percent for Mr. Nader. The margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.

It is generally believed by campaign strategists in both camps that with Mr. Bush’s electoral strength across the South and the Western plains states, Mr. Kerry could not win the presidency without carrying Pennsylvania. The state has been one of Mr. Bush’s strategic targets, and last week he made his 27th trip there. Since nailing down the Democratic nomination, Mr. Kerry has visited the state only once.

• New Jersey (15 electoral votes): Mr. Gore carried this state by 16 points in 2000. But a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll taken April 3 to 10 found the two rivals in a close race — 47 percent for the president versus 48 percent for Mr. Kerry, a surprising development in a heavily Democratic state that was thought to be solidly in Kerry’s column. The poll’s margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.

• Michigan (17 electoral votes): An EPIC/MRA poll taken at the beginning of this month put the race in a close race — 47 percent for Mr. Kerry to 45 percent for Mr. Bush. The two-point gap was well within the poll’s margin of error. An earlier survey by Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell for the Detroit News in March had Mr. Bush leading 46 percent to 42 percent.

“My sense is that Bush leads here right now, but it’s early and a lot of things could happen,” Mr. Mitchell said Friday.

“It’s dead even, but basically there is little or no visible activity by Kerry,” Michigan pollster Ed Sarpolus said. “This is a very polarized state, a 50-50 state, so if Kerry is not up here telling his story, they will elect a Republican.”

• Iowa (7 electoral votes): An American Research Group poll of 600 likely voters, conducted April 18 to 21, showed Mr. Bush trailing Mr. Kerry by a single point, 47 percent to 46 percent, with Mr. Nader at 3 percent and 4 percent of respondents undecided. The poll’s margin of error was four percentage points.

• Florida (27 electoral votes): A Mason-Dixon poll completed April 1 showed Mr. Bush leading Mr. Kerry 51 percent to 43 percent. More recent polls show the president holding a smaller lead in a state where unemployment is a low 4 percent and where Mr. Bush has made numerous trips over the past three years. The poll’s margin of error was four percentage points.

• Even in reliably Democratic Maryland (10 electoral votes), Mr. Bush has begun to cut into Mr. Kerry’s numbers. Mr. Gore carried the state by 17 points, but a recent survey by Maryland pollster Patrick Gonzales gives Mr. Kerry only a five-point edge.

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