- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Gordon Fischer says the presidential race is so tight in his Midwestern swing state that rank-and-file party members are getting a bad case of the jitters.

“There’s a lot of nervousness about how close it is, a lot of nervousness,” Mr. Fischer said of the contest for this battleground state’s seven electoral votes, which could decide who wins the White House on Nov. 2.

In a state where registered voters are almost equally divided — about one-third Republicans, one-third Democrats and one-third independents — polls show Iowa in a dead heat, with about 5 percent undecided. Al Gore carried the state by little more than 4,000 votes in 2000, but Mr. Fischer concedes that “terrorism and the war on terrorism are the predominant concerns among Iowa voters,” issues that President Bush scores highest on, according to the polls.

Still, Mr. Fischer seems frustrated that no matter what has happened thus far, “the race has been almost unbelievably static.”

“For months and months, it has been in a dead heat for Bush and [Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John] Kerry. Despite a tide of negative ads and the Democratic convention, the numbers haven’t moved more than 3 to 5 percent.”

Interviews with other Democratic chairmen in the battleground states finds that Iowa is not the only state where Democrats are getting nervous about the increasing closeness of the race so soon after the Democratic convention.

One top Democratic official even expressed doubts about which way her state will go in the election.

Another wants Mr. Kerry to get tougher, wishing he had spoken out much earlier against the Vietnam swift boat veterans who have accused the Massachusetts liberal of embellishing some of the combat episodes that led to his war medals.

In Wisconsin, for example, Democratic Party Executive Director Kim Warkentin suggests that the state could go either way. “There’s been a lot of polling done, but the numbers are very close. It’s going to be a tossup,” she said.

Mr. Gore won Wisconsin by two-tenths of a percent, or some 5,700 votes out of nearly 2.5 million votes cast. But now most of the polls show the state dead even, 46 percent to 46 percent. Internal Bush campaign polls show the president holding a slight edge, according to Republican advisers.

In a state where the Democrats hold the governorship, both Senate seats and half of the House delegation, state party officials say Mr. Kerry isn’t doing better there because voters still do not know him very well.

“The undecided voters know Bush and they’re not comfortable with him, but they want to know Kerry better,” said Linda Hanold, the Democratic chairwoman.

Most Democratic chairmen interviewed Friday said that the Vietnam veterans’ TV ad attacking Mr. Kerry has gotten a lot of attention in their states, but that the ads would have little impact on the campaign.

Even so, Democratic Chairman Mike Callaghan of West Virginia, where the ad has been running across the state, thinks the Kerry campaign should not have waited so long to respond to the ad’s charges.

“The ads have been running very strong in this state, which has a high population of veterans,” Mr. Callaghan said. “If I were Kerry, I would have responded sooner,” he added.

“It’s had an impact, and I think the impact is that there is now no doubt about how low the Republicans will sink to get elected,” he said.

West Virginia, a usually reliable Democratic state that Mr. Bush, in a surprising upset, carried by more than six points over Mr. Gore last time, is also in a dead heat, with no more than three or four points separating the two rivals.

“The reason is that it’s so polarized right now. The president’s support is very firm and the support that Kerry has is very firm. In between, the undecided people are few and far between,” Mr. Callaghan said. “There was no bounce in this state from the Democratic convention, and I don’t expect a bounce in this state after the Republican convention.”

In Michigan, however, a major battleground state with the rich prize of 17 electoral votes, Mr. Kerry has a relatively modest five- to seven-point lead, though the race remains competitive, despite the state’s worsening 6.8 percent unemployment rate, Democratic officials there said.

“Kerry moved up about seven points after the convention, but we didn’t expect much of a bounce after the convention. There are so few undecided voters,” said Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer. “But I expect it to tighten up again after the president’s convention.”

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