- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

NEW YORK — Republicans are leaving here this morning fired up and eager to see the Bush-Cheney ticket hit the road to turn the momentum built by the four-day convention into victory.

Even before President Bush closed the show by formally accepting the Republican nomination last night, a Rasmussen daily tracking poll had already given him a bounce.

In the head-to-head matchup with Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mr. Bush was the preference of 49 percent of likely voters yesterday, with 45 percent for Mr. Kerry.

It was the first time the president had reached the 49 percent mark in the poll since Mr. Kerry all but wrapped up his party’s nomination in March, and the first time Mr. Bush had enjoyed a four-point lead since late April.

Mr. Bush left New York immediately after his speech for Scranton, Pa., so, according to his campaign, he could wake up in a swing state.

Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said Pennsylvania, with 21 electoral votes, is now one major Democratic state whose conservative, blue-collar pro-life voters can be brought into the president’s column and that conservative Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who fired up the convention Wednesday night with his speech attacking Mr. Kerry and his own party, is the ideal surrogate to help make that happen.

“In Pennsylvania, there are always two groups who swing back and forth: socially conservative voters in the northwest and southwest, and moderates in the Philadelphia suburbs,” he said. “In both places, we will make the case for the president’s leadership in the war on terror and the economy.”

After this morning’s rally, Mr. Bush jets off to Milwaukee for another event in the afternoon and closes the day with a stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Tomorrow, he visits Cleveland and Lake County in Ohio and Erie, Pa., and wraps up the weekend at a rally Sunday in Parkersburg, W.Va.

Vice President Dick Cheney heads out west for rallies today in Oregon and Nevada and tomorrow in New Mexico and Georgia.

While the Bush campaign has officially declared that it expects no boost in the polls out of this convention — just as Mr. Kerry didn’t get one in July — political consultants close to the campaign predict a bounce in the neighborhood of 4 percent.

One point of agreement among Bush campaign advisers, outside consultants and pollsters is that although the convention here went exceptionally well for Mr. Bush, the vast majority of viewers had already made their choice.

“The majority watching on television had already made up their minds,” said Texas delegate Richard H. McBride, a campaign consultant from Austin. “Joe Six-pack wasn’t watching, so we’ll get a little bounce.”

“The problem is that hard-core undecided voters — now about 9 percent of likely voters — were not watching, not paying attention,” pollster John Zogby said.

“But it’s been a good couple of weeks for the president, especially for doing damage to Kerry and getting his own numbers up,” said Mr. Zogby, who saw Mr. Kerry drop and Mr. Bush rise for a total nine percentage-point swing in the incumbent’s favor.

A crucial indicator of how the campaign is going is how well each side is solidifying its own voter base. Turning out a percentage point or two more of Republican voters will do more to help Mr. Bush triumph than gaining a few more points among the far smaller pool of undecided voters.

The Bush campaign is particularly happy about this score, believing it now has the edge, and the public polling seems to support that optimism.

“While we had Bush getting 87 percent of Republican voter support in May — that went down to 81 percent in June and July — he’ll leave here at 90 percent, and Kerry will be down under 80 percent with Democrats,” Mr. Zogby said.

“A big part of these conventions is to get the base fired up, get them to expend every last ounce of energy on behalf of the president. This convention did that in spades,” said Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, whose state Mr. Bush lost to Al Gore by 60,000 votes in 2000.

Phil Kent, a political consultant and alternate Republican delegate from Georgia, said Mr. Miller’s speech was especially important.

“I thought it was very effective when he listed the weapons systems” that Mr. Kerry voted against in his 20-year Senate career, Mr. Kent said. “We knew it in our hearts that he voted against defense, but we didn’t know the bill of particulars. Miller laid it out for everyone.”

White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said yesterday that a focus group that watched the speech did not share the view of Democrats and many pundits that Mr. Miller’s negativity was a turnoff and would damage Mr. Bush.

“I was told that Zell Miller was off the charts” in the positive direction, Mr. Card said of the instant polling where viewers turn a nob to express their pleasure or revulsion to a political speech.

“Everyone just went right to the peaks during Zell Miller’s speech,” Mr. Card said. “He was reaching people that we might not be able to reach” because he was a Democrat.

Political consultants said despite the popularity of Mr. Miller’s speech, it is unlikely that his speech will be used in campaign ads. But Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, all Republicans, are almost certain to get television face time.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, who has been shy about campaigning with Mr. Bush, told the Associated Press that he is considering traveling with the president in Ohio.

Mr. Mehlman said he would not name the battleground states where the Bush campaign will now start plowing advertising money or which of the convention speakers would be featured in those ads.

“You will see who is in our ads when they come out, and you will see in the next two weeks where both campaigns are buying,” he said.

But he did note that the Kerry campaign has reduced its spending in Arizona and Missouri and certain other states.

“They haven’t written off these states, but they are focusing on the blue [Democratic] states,” he said.

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