Six more days of electoral love and hate

PHILADELPHIA — Sen. John Kerry is hoping that his narrow lead in the Keystone State will be the cornerstone for a victory in the Electoral College next week.

At the same time, with battleground Florida still too close to call, President Bush is making a hectic swing through “blue states” that are tossups, believing he can snatch enough of them from Kerry to secure a win.
patrick g. ryan
Sen. John Kerry shakes hands at a huge rally in Philadelphia on Monday, where he was joined by former President Bill Clinton.

Bush’s campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, is predicting that Bush will win both the electoral vote and the popular vote on election night. He said the president could prevail even if Kerry were to pull out victories in Pennsylvania and Ohio — an outcome that is a distinct possibility.

“I am confident we’re going to win Ohio and Florida,” Mehlman said at a Christian Science Monitor lunch yesterday.

He said Bush was “in the ball game” in Michigan and Pennsylvania, ahead in Wisconsin and Iowa, and “very close” in New Mexico.

“All of these are states that were blue last time that are now within the margin of error today,” Mehlman said.

Complicating efforts to call the race are some late-breaking news events, such as the discovery that explosives in Iraq are missing and Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist’s treatment for thyroid cancer. Meanwhile, some surprising new polls have emerged — including one putting Arkansas in a dead heat and another giving President Bush a one-point lead (within the error margin) in the Democratic bastion of Hawaii.

Kerry’s electoral math begins in Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes), where he has held a small but consistent lead in recent polling. Thousands of new registered voters here, and an expected high turnout in Philadelphia, where former President Bill Clinton joined Kerry on Monday, could help deliver the state.

“I think it’s going to be the largest turnout in the history of the United States,” said Peter Brunner, a Navy veteran from Bucks County, Pa., who served in Vietnam at the same time as Kerry and attended Monday’s rally. “I have never in my life seen people more organized. It isn’t so much a love of Kerry as it is a hatred of Bush.”

“People in Philadelphia are pretty pumped,” said Darrell Clarke, an African-
American member of the Philadelphia City Council. He dismissed national polling data showing that Bush could double his 2000 vote among blacks. “It’ll never happen,” Clarke said.

Because of changes in reapportionment, Bush starts out with an electoral advantage.

The states he carried in 2000 now total 278 electoral votes. Nevertheless, Bush starts out with only about 208 votes considered likely to be in his column, with others too close to call. Giving Bush West Virginia, where he has held a series of narrow leads, gets him to 213.

In the latest polls, Bush held slight leads in Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. Adding those to his total would get him to 240 electoral votes, still shy of victory. Even giving Bush Colorado — a Republican-leaning state where Kerry held a surprising lead in the latest poll — gets Bush only to 249. A win in Florida would seal a victory, but Florida is a tossup. But giving Bush Ohio without Florida would give him 269 votes, two short of victory.

Likewise, Kerry starts out with a base of 207, based on political analyst Charlie Cook’s rankings, which assume Kerry picks up states such as Michigan that are leaning his way. Add to that New Hampshire (in Kerry’s back yard), traditionally Democratic Minnesota and Pennsylvania and he’s at 242 votes. Granting Kerry Colorado gets him to 251 votes, still short of victory. Here again, Florida would seal a victory, but many polls in the state are dead even or inconsistent.

But Ohio’s 20 electoral votes also would put Kerry over the top in this scenario, bringing him to 271 with Colorado but without Florida.

In the latest Electoral College count compiled by Hotline, which grants each candidate all states leaning his way, Kerry has led Bush for two days in a row, by 243 to 234, still short of the 270 needed to win. (This score assumes that Bush picks up leaning states Iowa, Wisconsin and New Mexico while Kerry picks up Colorado. In this scenario, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Ohio all are considered tossups).

It is difficult for Bush to prevail if Kerry can nail down Pennsylvania and Ohio — one reason Bush is planning a trip to four Rust Belt states today: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

It is hard to tell which remaining battleground state will make the difference. New Mexico, which Al Gore barely carried, might be Kerry’s best opportunity in a GOP-dominated region. But in nearby Arizona, new Democratic registrants led
Republicans by more than 10,000 from April through August. “The Democrats seem to be gaining ground in Nevada,” political analyst Rhodes Cook said. “That might be the one they have the best chance of taking.”

Bush still has a virtual lock on the Republican “L” of red states running across the Plains states, the Midwest and the Republican-dominant South. “The advantage for Bush is that he has more targets of opportunity here than Kerry does, it seems, down the stretch,” Cook said.

But Kerry might be able to count on some strong (and often overlooked) polling in battleground states — even as Bush has led him slightly in the vast majority of national “horse race” polls since the end of the presidential debates (although with troubling approval ratings for an incumbent president). That is one reason observers are still not ruling out the possibility that Bush could win the popular vote even as Kerry captures the presidency.