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The Presidential Campaign

Toledo to Tampa Bay, a divided nation speaks

Bush and Kerry toss sound bites and shake hands in a frenetic bid for crucial last votes in battleground states.

Published November 2, 2004

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MILWAUKEE - They crossed paths at a misty airport in Milwaukee as President Bush left a rally and Sen. John Kerry arrived for one. In Florida, Kerry joked that his brother Cameron had visited the state with him so often, he was now thinking of running for governor. And as the temperatures dropped and a cold rain pelted much of the Midwest, both candidates acted like there's nowhere finer than Ohio.

On the eve of a presidential election expected to draw more voters than any in U.S. history, Bush and Kerry worked frantically for a few extra votes in a few key states that each campaign believes will put its man into the White House, tweaking their schedules on the fly and fretting over reams of vacillating polling data.

As Kerry noted at a rally at the Orlando airport Monday morning before leaving for the Upper Midwest, it was not a day for long speeches. Instead, it was a day to give supporters one more push for getting out the vote today.

"This election outcome is in your hands," Kerry, in a mustard-colored barn jacket and Boston Red Sox hat, told supporters in Milwaukee, exuberant despite the pouring rain and cold. "This is your chance to hold George Bush accountable, my friends."

The voters "have heard the message," said Mark McKinnon, Bush's media consultant. "Now it's a turnout game."

Bush stopped Monday in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico and held a final homecoming rally in Dallas.

"We are living in historic times, and a lot is at stake in this election," the president said in Burgettstown, Pa. "The future safety and prosperity of America are on the ballot."

Both camps are outwardly confident but inwardly concerned; the race is too close to call.

As many as a dozen states are up for grabs. The biggest are Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which together account for 88 of the required 270 electoral votes to win; the others include New Hampshire, New Mexico, Iowa and Hawaii.

Bush made a last-minute dash to Albuquerque, N.M., a state where polls show a dead heat. Kerry, likewise, hit Detroit for a spirited rally with singer Stevie Wonder and the city's African-American leaders, who pledged to get voters to the polls.

Polls show Kerry leading in Michigan, but Republicans are working hard to mobilize voters there and "that's one we want to work hard to protect," Kerry press secretary Dave Wade said. "That's one where we don't ever want to wake up on Wednesday and realize that we made a terrible error."

Kerry has an edge in Pennsylvania. Both campaigns have spent the most time in the closing days in three states - Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin - where the polls are inconsistent and close.

Wisconsin is a wild card. Bush lost it last time, but some polls show him slightly ahead.

Ralph Nader's support has dwindled, but with the race so close, he could be a factor if he takes votes from Kerry in a close state.

McKinnon said that Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, was back at headquarters "fielding calls every five seconds and getting new numbers every five seconds and pulling out what little hair he has left."

The big unknown is turnout, and that's what Bush and Kerry were trying to influence on Monday. In 2000, the tremendous Democratic turnout for Al Gore in Florida turned polls showing a Bush lead upside down. Though Bush won by less than 0.001 percent of the votes cast in the state, it proved that a massive turnout by either side could overcome a deficit in the polls.

Turnout is expected to be as high as 120-million; in 2000, about 105-million people voted.

After Kerry's rally in Tampa Sunday night, he started Monday morning in Orlando, where he attended Mass to celebrate All Saints Day. The visit to St. John Vianney, a grade school and parish, drew plenty of local media coverage, and the campaign hoped it would bring them more voters like Lisa McElroy, 35, a mother of four who voted for Bush in 2000 but plans to vote for Kerry today.

Bush's decisiveness after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack initially impressed her. But now she believes he has used the war on terrorism as cover for ignoring important domestic issues.

"You can't run a presidency on just one day," McElroy said. "What has he done for us? He is focused on the war on terrorism. That's important to a lot of people. But there are other issues in America that need to be handled."

In Wilmington, Ohio, people arrived as early as 3 a.m. and waited four and a half hours in a cold airport hangar to see Bush. Terry Habermehl brought his 8- and 14-year-old children because "it's not often you get to see the president of the United States."

The drafty maintenance hangar made for an ideal setting. Banners on the walls meant for the aircraft mechanics who work there were in concert with the central theme of Bush's campaign: "Safety Begins Here."

Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling introduced Bush in Wilmington, praising him as "a leader who has the character to stay on the offense in the war against terrorism."

In Milwaukee, Bush was leaving as Kerry arrived for a rally downtown with U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, one of the state's most popular politicians.

Wisconsin is confounding the Kerry campaign, whose strategists think his support of stem cell research, a $4,000-per-year tuition tax credit and more affordable health care should play well.

But some polls show Bush leading. The state has not been hit as hard by job losses as Ohio or Pennsylvania, and strategists say a growing number of conservative suburban voters are gnawing at its Democratic solidarity.

"The Democratic get-out-the-vote has always been better," said Steve Foti, the Republican majority leader in the Wisconsin House of Representatives. "This is the first time we've matched them."

Both sides prepared for more voting troubles after the contested 2000 election in Florida. In Florida and Ohio, especially, armies of Democratic and Republican attorneys have signed up.

Republicans lost in two federal courts in Ohio Monday. District court judges in Cincinnati and Akron barred Republican Party representatives from challenging the eligibility of voters at polling places. Regular poll workers will determine if voters are eligible.

Republicans wanted to put challengers in many polling places, citing the possibility of tens of thousands of fraudulent voter registrations; Democrats countered that such challenges were aimed at intimidating black voters and suppressing Democratic turnout.

GOP lawyers appealed the rulings, hoping for a reversal before polls open this morning.

Bush will vote in Crawford, Texas, then meet with campaign volunteers in Columbus, Ohio, and end up in Washington D.C.

Kerry spent Monday night in LaCrosse, Wis., a state that allows people to register to vote on election day.

He'll fly to Boston, vote at the state Capitol and take his traditional Election Day lunch at the Union Oyster House, a Boston landmark. In 20 years as a senator, he hasn't lost since he started eating there.

[Last modified November 2, 2004, 10:49:10]

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