- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

My state-by-state analysis of the presidential race now shows George W. Bush getting close to if not more than the 270 electoral votes he needs for re-election.

Of course, anything can happen over the next six weeks to change the electoral count in John Kerry’s favor, but present polls show Mr. Bush leading in enough states — mostly outside the margins of error — in the South, West and even some Midwestern battleground states to win another four years.

Helped by a bounce from the Republican National Convention and an inept campaign by Mr. Kerry, the biggest surprise thus far is Mr. Bush is challenging the senator in several states in the Northeast and Midwest that Al Gore won in 2000 but that Mr. Kerry is in danger of losing.

“Bush is in the ascendency as we speak, both nationally and in several big battleground states,” independent pollster John Zogby told me. “While I might quibble with some of the margins, I have no doubts that Bush leads in those states.”

My electoral count, based on the latest independent news media polls and interviews withh top state political leaders in both parties, shows Mr. Bush leads throughout the South, the Western and Plains states and in Midwestern industrial states like Ohio and Missouri. They would give him 269 total electoral votes. In other words, one tossup state away from victory.

Mr. Kerry, on the other hand, leads Bush in most of the heavily Democratic Northeastern and Middle Atlantic states, the biggest Midwest states of Illinois and Michigan and in the Pacific Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington, plus Hawaii.

But that gives him only 211 electoral votes, far short of the magic 270. The pundits have been talking about 17 to 21 battleground states, but at this point there are only about five real tossups that will decide the outcome: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and West Virginia.

Gore strategists were stunned when Mr. Bush carried heavily Democractic West Virginia in 2000 by 41,000 votes. It remains competitive, though a Zogby poll showed Mr. Kerry trailing there by 40 percent to 49 percent. Other polls show the race much closer but with Mr. Bush holding a slight lead.

Those five tossup states total 58 electoral votes, still not enough to give Mr. Kerry the 270 needed to defeat Mr. Bush.

Meantime, Bush has been mounting a concentrated offensive in the six states and the polls show he is getting results.

In Pennsylvania, for example, a swing state with 21 electoral votes Mr. Kerry cannot affford to lose, the Gallup Poll shows the race nearly even, with Mr. Bush holding a slight 1 point edge, 48 percent to 47 percent, among likely voters.

Mr. Bush was also slightly ahead in Wisconsin, a Democratic-leaning state with 10 electoral votes Mr. Gore carried by less than 6,000 votes. Why isn’t Mr. Kerry doing better there? A manufacturing recovery that flattened unemployment to a 4.7 percent low is one reason. Growing doubts about his competence on national security issues is another.

Even in Minnesota, another strongly Democratic state Mr. Bush lost in 2000, polls show the contest virtually tied at 47 percent for Mr. Kerry and 46 percent for Mr. Bush, according to a Newsweek survey. Mr. Kerry seems stuck in Iowa, too, which Gore also carried, but where the race is neck-and-neck.

Elsewhere in the Midwest battlegrounds, Mr. Bush is either running away with the race or putting up a much tougher fight than the Kerry campaign expected.

In Ohio (20 electoral votes), a Bush 2000 state where Mr. Kerry has led for months, the president now is 8 points ahead, 52 percent to 44 percent, says Gallup.

In Missouri (11 votes), a state the Kerry campaign hoped to winn, Mr. Bush has surged into a 55 percent-41 percent lead.

An alarming sign of Mr. Kerry’s Midwest slippage is especially visible in Michigan, whose 17 electoral votes have long seemed his. Even so, Mr. Bush campaigned there Monday for what Democratic pollsters call “the Granny vote,” persistently undecided older women concerned about health care.

Mr. Bush’s message: Mr. Kerry’s big government plan will put bureaucrats, not doctors, in charge of medical choices. Mr. Kerry now clings to a 2- to 3-point lead there, Democratic pollster Ed Sarpolus told me this week.

But if the emerging electoral map reveals anything about the shape of this election, it is the Republicans’ continuing lock on the South, including Florida, plus the Western and Plains states, from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande.

Even in a tossup state like New Mexico, which Mr. Bush lost by 366 votes last time, the trends are in the president’s direction. A Research and Polling survey of 908 registered voters completed Sept. 1 for the Albuquerque Journal showed Mr. Bush leading by 45 percent to 42 percent. Not a hopeful sign for Mr. Kerry’s sagging campaign.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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