Sunday, March 21, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry will have to carry nearly three-fourths of the states in the North, Midwest and West to overcome President Bush’s strength across most of the South, presidential campaign advisers said yesterday.

A state-by-state snapshot review of the preliminary electoral numbers shows that at this point in the campaign Mr. Bush continues to maintain his party’s vaunted lock on most of the Old Confederacy, the border states and the western Plains states. Of the states in these regions, only three are considered tossups right now — West Virginia and Florida, which Mr. Bush carried in 2000, and New Mexico, which he lost by 366 votes.

If the president’s Southern advantage continues to hold up over the next eight months, Mr. Kerry will have to clear a nearly insurmountable electoral hurdle, the president’s advisers say.

“The difficult part for Kerry is that, as of today, he trails across the South by about 10 points. And if the Republicans carry the solid South, he will have to win 70 percent of the remaining electoral votes in the rest of the country to be elected president,” said Ralph Reed, who advises the White House on campaign strategies.

Based on the latest state polls, interviews with campaign strategists and each state’s electoral history, Mr. Bush appears to have 22 states safely in his column, totaling 186 electoral votes. They are: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

Three more states — Arizona, Arkansas and Colorado — totaling 25 electoral votes, are leaning toward Mr. Bush. These 25 states, all of which Mr. Bush won in 2000, would give him 211 votes out of the 270 he needs to win the presidency.

Mr. Kerry leads in 11 states plus the District, which would give him 168 electoral votes. They are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Three other states, with a combined 32 electoral votes, are leaning toward Kerry: Washington, Maine and Michigan.

These states, all of which Al Gore won in 2000, would give the Massachusetts senator a total of 200 votes.

Eleven others, with a combined 127 electoral votes, are the battleground states that will likely decide who will win the presidency in November. They are: Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Wisconsin, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Bush carried five of these tossup states in 2000 — Florida, Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia and New Hampshire — which today would give him 67 more electoral votes, eight more than he needs to win.

Mr. Gore won the other six — Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — which, if Mr. Kerry should carry them, would raise his electoral total to 260, or 10 short of the number he needs to deny the president a second term.

Republican strategists believe that the electoral count will be just as close as it was in 2000 when the election hinged on the disputed Florida election Mr. Bush won, giving him a total of 271 electoral votes, or one more than needed.

“The reason why this race is likely to be so close is not because the popular vote is going to be so evenly divided, but also because of the relative strength of the two parties are reflected in the electoral map,” Mr. Reed said.

“The Republican Party is extremely strong in the Rocky Mountain states and the South, which together comprise roughly 250 electoral votes,” he said. “While I think it is going to be very competitive and extremely close, I think we have some real strong areas in the electoral map and I like our chances.”

But other Republican strategists say some of the states Mr. Bush carried in 2000 are going to be much harder for the president to carry this time.

“You have to look at New Hampshire and West Virginia, which Bush carried last time and appear to be challenges this time,” said Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s campaign in 1996. “Ohio and Missouri are going to be huge battleground states and are going to be tough because of job losses and the economic environment.”

However, Mr. Kerry also appears to be running weaker in some of the key states that Mr. Gore carried last time, including Pennsylvania, where a Franklin-Marshall College poll showed the race in a dead heat at the end of February, when the senator was leading in most of the national polls.

If Mr. Bush carries Pennsylvania, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Mr. Kerry to make up the state’s hefty 21 votes elsewhere on the electoral map, strategists in both parties say.

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