Diego Union Tribune
October 31, 2004
As Election Day approaches, Bush and Kerry maintain a frenzied pace, campaigning for last-minute support
By George E. Condon Jr. and Finlay Lewis
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
President Bush and challenger John Kerry enter the final 48 hours of their presidential campaigns with neither candidate able to take command of the race nationally or in the handful of states that stubbornly remain too close to call.
With about 10 percent of the electorate having already cast their ballots in states where early voting is permitted, Kerry and Bush plan to spend today and tomorrow in frantic dashes to the states that both sides believe control the outcome.
Both men also are warily watching the news, fearful that their careful campaign plans could be altered by unexpected developments such as the surprise emergence Friday of a videotape showing that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is still alive and at large.
After months in which more than $1 billion has been spent to influence the electorate and more than three years after the race began with the first exploratory visit to Iowa in early 2001 by the first Democratic contender, it comes down to inevitably hoarse pitches by weary candidates to crowds gathered in airport hangars.
Election map: The latest polls
The map for the final 48 hours is now familiar – and with California long since ceded to Kerry, the nation's biggest electoral prize is not on the itinerary. The president will be in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico before going to vote in Texas. His Democratic challenger will be in Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan before he votes in Massachusetts.
The polls are, by now, also familiar. Nationally, they show the contenders are either tied or that Bush enjoys a slight lead. In the battleground states crucial to getting the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, the two candidates continue to seesaw, with neither able to move beyond fragile leads of three or four percentage points.
And in the most troubling development, both sides also are girding for an outcome that might be all too similar to the contested results of 2000, when Bush lost the popular vote by half a million votes to Al Gore but eked out a narrow Electoral College victory after the Supreme Court intervened.
Four years later, both parties have decided to pre-empt controversy by deploying their own armies of lawyers. More than 18,000 lawyers have already been put on call and stand ready to parachute in, armed with writs and subpoenas and affidavits, at the first sign of a hostile hanging chad or a threatening provisional ballot.
The two camps acknowledge that the closeness of the race could result in neither candidate reaching the magic 270 mark. They have contingency plans in place should the unthinkable occur and Tuesday end with a 269-269 electoral tie. In that case, the House of Representatives would decide the outcome, but not until January and probably not until after a lot of legal wrangling.
Even as they plan for the worst, Bush and Kerry talk hopefully of achieving what was unachievable in 2000 – a clear and clean victory – and both entered the weekend seizing on signs that such a win was within their grasp.
"We feel very good," said Bush pollster Matthew Dowd, predicting a clear GOP win Tuesday with no repeat of the Florida recount follies. "We won't have to spend 37 days in Tallahassee again."
He based his optimism on what he called Bush's "advantage on intensity of support and enthusiasm," which he deemed critical in an election that will be won by whichever side can turn out its vote most effectively.
"It would be very tough to cool the ardor of the Republicans at this point," he said, contending that Bush is getting 95 percent of all Republicans, a number even Ronald Reagan could not reach in his 1984 landslide.
Kerry's strategists say their camp has the most energized supporters.
"The passion and energy leading up to Election Day has been on our side," said Michael Whouley, a senior Democratic official and an expert on ground-game tactics. "Looking in terms of who has momentum going into Election Day, I think the early vote tells the story that the Kerry campaign has the momentum going into Election Day."
Top Kerry aides pointed to internal polls purporting to show that voters who took advantage of early-voting laws in their states are breaking for the Democrat. They also underscore figures indicating that the Kerry campaign will end the race having substantially outspent the Bush team on TV advertising in battleground states such as Florida and Ohio.
The Democratic nominee's top strategists also said Kerry enjoys leads in the most hotly contested states, and added that they have readied a get-out-the-vote operation that dwarfs previous efforts.
Whouley said the campaign will deploy 250,000 volunteers in key areas on Election Day, nearly three times the number mustered by Gore in 2000.
The architects of the current effort, he said, "have built both qualitatively and quantitatively the most substantial ground game ever for any Democratic nominee in the history of our party."
Both campaigns agree that the number of undecided voters is between 3 percent and 4 percent, but they strongly disagree on where those voters will land once they make up their minds. Democrats insist that, historically, undecided voters go heavily against the incumbent.
"An incumbent president going into an election with less than 48 percent of the votes is in serious trouble because the undecideds . . . tend to break against the incumbent," Kerry pollster Mark Mellman said. With the race essentially tied, he added, "we think those folks are going to come disproportionately to us."
Dowd called that a misreading of history, pointing out that undecided voters basically split down the middle the last three times an incumbent was running for re-election, in 1984, 1992 and 1996.
He said the undecideds are probably Bush supporters because "they are nearly all white, they are older, they split between men and women. They are moderate and conservative."
Both sides say the intensity in the electorate portends a much higher turnout than the 105 million who went to the polls in 2000. Kerry senior strategist Tad Devine predicted between 118 million and 121 million voters, while Dowd expects between 115 million and 120 million.
Again, though, they disagree about who would benefit from high turnout. Devine said a turnout under 110 million would benefit Bush, while Dowd insisted that the president is not aiming for a low turnout.
One reason neither candidate has been able to open up a big lead is because both are viewed as flawed, independent pollsters said.
Andy Kohut, executive director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said the reason Bush has been unable to get above 48 percent in most polls is because voters "worry that he has not done a very good job – it's not more complicated than that. And that he's headstrong – he hasn't admitted his mistakes."
But, he said, they also are not sold on Kerry and worry "whether he is a strong-enough leader."
As has been the case for the past month, much of the attention in the final 48 hours will be on the Midwest and one state in particular.
"Ohio, Ohio, Ohio – whoever wins there wins the presidency," Democratic strategist John Podesta said.
California, despite its treasure trove of 55 electoral votes, will not bask in the same sort of attention.
Neither team mounted a serious effort in California, where Kerry has consistently held a commanding lead in the polls.
Kerry has campaigned in the state only four times since the March 2 primary election, and Bush just twice. In each visit, the principal motivation was to raise money to spend someplace else.
"You never know what the next election is going to look like. It's possible we'll have a Republican who's competitive in California," said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "But if present trends continue, California is just going to be a net exporter of political money."
Bush made a major effort in California in 2000, spending $15 million, only to lose the state to Gore by 11 percentage points.
For a time, there was much bravado in Republican circles that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's stunning victory in last year's recall election set the table for Bush to win the state in 2004.
"California is definitely in play, and we have a real chance to win it in November," Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said last spring. "We're going to put our money where our mouth is in that regard."
They didn't. Neither campaign had more than a skeleton staff in California, and neither spent any money on TV ads geared toward the state.
Copley News Service correspondents Otto Kreisher and Paul Krawzak and staff writer John Marelius contributed to this report.