Despite virtually universal media insistence that the presidential popular vote remains too close to call, Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry has held significant leads in the crucial electoral vote total since late May briefly interrupted by the mid-June media circus over Ronald Reagan's death, but firmly re-established since early July (after Fahrenheit 9/11 began screening and Kerry selected Edwards as his running mate).
The latest state polls, as of Aug. 24, put Kerry ahead of Bush by 108 electoral votes (with Colorado's nine votes tied). Currently, Kerry leads in former Bush states Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Nevada and New Hampshire. (And at one time or another during the past five weeks, Kerry has also led in former Bush states Arkansas, Ohio, Arizona and West Virginia.)
Why is Kerry leading handily in electoral votes while the popular vote remains close? Because there has been a major shift in about 15 states, with seven former "battlegrounds" moving to Kerry and eight former Bush states becoming freshly competitive. Although many pollsters and pundits have been focusing much of their attention on Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico, those states have moved firmly toward Kerry. At the same time, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and even South Carolina are now in play.
Seven ongoing battleground states have stayed close, with the candidates currently within 5 percent of each other. In addition Kerry currently has a dozen states in the West, East and Midwest, which provide an unshakeable foundation of 113 electoral votes for him versus 17 mostly smaller bedrock Bush states, with 134 votes. Finally, Kerry benefits from the fact that currently only one state (Nevada; five votes) is likely to be taken from him by the Nader vote.
BATTLEGROUNDS LEAN KERRY
Pennsylvania (went Gore by 5 percent in 2000; 21 electoral votes): Although both candidates are still working it, Pennsylvania has been in the Kerry column since June 21, leading by five to 10 points in all of the 11 most recent polls. Prior to that, Keystone state voters changed their minds 10 times. The latest poll (Zogby, Aug. 24) has Kerry up 8 percent.
Oregon (went Gore by 0.36 percent; seven votes): Oregon has changed hands six times since March, but in the seven readings since June 7, Kerry led by a steady 6 percent to 11 percent. The latest poll (Zogby, Aug. 23) has Kerry up by 11 percent.
Washington (went Gore by 5 percent; 11 votes): Until early June, this race was close, but the last 10 polls have all shown Kerry ahead by 6 percent to 9 percent. The latest poll results (Zogby, Aug. 23): Kerry by 8 percent.
New Hampshire (went Bush by 1 percent; four votes): In January 2004, Bush led by 15 points. In April, Kerry regained the lead here and has strengthened it until he was in front by 9 percent on Aug. 3. The latest poll (Zogby, Aug. 24) shows Kerry up 7 percent.
Iowa (went Gore by 2 percent; seven votes): Iowa saw five lead changes in the past 11 months. Kerry has a lead of 7 percent as of Aug. 24 (Zogby).
New Mexico (went Gore by 0.1 percent; five votes): It was extremely close through June, but then Kerry steamed ahead by seven to 10 points in seven of the eight July-to-August surveys. The latest poll (Zogby, Aug. 24) has Kerry up 6 percent.
Minnesota (went Gore by 2 percent; 10 votes): The race was close until mid-July, but now Kerry has pulled ahead by 5 percent to 8 percent in four late July-to-August samplings. The latest poll results (Zogby, Aug. 24) show Kerry up by 5 percent.
Nevada (went Bush by 4 percent; five votes): Bush led by 28 percent way back in July 2003 and by 11 percent in March, but Kerry had a 4 percent advantage on July 23. The latest poll (Survey USA, Aug. 18) in this race shows Bush up by 3 percent. Nevada's back in play.
Tennessee (went Bush by 4 percent; 11 votes): Formerly solid Bush territory (up 19 percent on June 21), the Volunteer state has turned on a dime and Kerry narrowly led in three of the four most recent polls. The latest (Zogby, Aug. 24) has Kerry up 2 percent.
Arizona (went Bush by 6 percent; 10 votes). In 12 of the 13 polls conducted from July 18, 2003, to July 14, 2004, Bush has led by three to 14 points, but the July 18 Arizona State University poll gave Kerry a one-point lead. Then the Aug. 1 Market Solutions poll said Bush was up 3 percent.
North Carolina (went Bush by 13 percent; 15 votes): In eight polls through July 12, Bush was in front by as many as 15 points, but his lead slid in the last seven readings (down to 3 percent to 7 percent).
Colorado (went Bush by 8 percent; nine votes): The home of Coors and Columbine has leaned Bushward consistently since September 2003, but his lead has slipped to zero in the latest Rasmussen tally, conducted Aug. 20.
South Carolina (went Bush by 16 percent; eight votes): In four polls through June 30, Bush led by 10 percent to 17 percent, but on July 12 his lead dropped to 7 percent. The latest poll (Survey USA, July 12) has Bush up by 11 percent.
Arkansas (went Bush by 6 percent; six votes): Bush led by eight points on April 8 and by five points on May 31. Kerry has been moving up, but Bush leads in the latest poll (Survey USA, Aug. 24) by 1 percent.
Virginia (went Bush by 7 percent; 13 votes): Last December, Bush led by 15 percent, but the four latest polls show his lead cut all the way down to 2 percent to 5 percent. The latest poll (Rasmussen, Aug. 3) has Bush up by 4 percent.
Maine (went Gore by 5 percent; four votes). Go figure! From September 2003 through May 2004, Kerry led comfortably (by nine to 19 points) in four polls, but most recently (Rasmussen, Aug. 9) his lead was only 4 percent, so this former Kerry stronghold appears now to be a battleground.
California (went Gore by 11 percent; 55 votes): Kerry has led in every poll since Jan. 13, 2004, but his leads have increased through Aug. 17 (averaging 13 percent). Then, on Aug. 20, Survey USA inexplicably reported that Kerry's lead dropped to 3 percent. Many pundits are very suspicious of this poll.
Missouri (went Bush by 3 percent; 11 votes): In this volatile bellwether state, Bush led (by 1 percent to 11 percent) in the five polls from March 23 to July 8, and then Kerry edged ahead in the next five. Now Kerry leads by a gnat's eyebrow: 0.5 percent (Aug. 25, Zogby).
Ohio (went Bush by 4 percent; 20 votes): This key state has ping-ponged back and forth 11 times since February 2003. The latest poll (Zogby, Aug. 24) has Bush up by 6 percent.
Florida (went Bush by 0.0001 percent, via Supreme Court; 27 votes). The state tightly controlled by brother Jeb has experienced no fewer than 15 lead changes in the past 17 months. Kerry led in the five polls taken between July 30 and Aug. 10; Bush popped ahead by 2 percent on Aug. 22 and then Kerry regained a 0.6 percent lead in Zogby's latest (Aug. 24).
Wisconsin (went Gore by 0.22 percent; 10 votes): The cheesehead state see-sawed eight times from March through July 11 (from Bush up 12 percent to Kerry up 9 percent), but since then Kerry led in the five most recent polls, by 2 percent to 9 percent. The latest poll (Zogby, Aug. 24) shows Kerry up 4 percent.
West Virginia (went Bush by 6 percent; five votes): The Mountaineer state has waffled five times since May. The latest poll (Zogby, Aug. 24) shows Bush up by 8 percent.
Michigan (went Gore by 5 percent; 17 votes): Wolverine folks changed their minds nine times before June 30, but the last 10 readings have all been Kerry, by 2 to 11 percent. The latest results (Zogby, Aug. 24): Kerry led by 5 percent.
Should Kerry supporters feel encouraged by the data above? Yes and no. The trend in most states is toward Kerry, but two pitfalls lie ahead.
First there's the "October surprise." After Bush's theft of the 2000 election and his clear swoon in the electoral vote tabulations, he is widely believed to have a dirty trick up his sleeve. Pakistan may have trapped Osama bin Laden in an Afghan cave and be planning to help Bush produce him three years late just before Nov. 2. A few months ago, there were press rumors that trucks hired by the United States were shipping weapons of mass destruction into Iraq, for timely discovery. And the way has been prepared to postpone the election if we suffer another major terror attack.
Second and even scarier 98 million U.S. ballots will go into computers which could be used to falsify the results, leaving no paper record available for recounts. It is widely believed that Republican operatives hacked electronic voting machines in Georgia and Minnesota in 2002, giving their party control of the Senate. A week before the Georgia vote, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed popular Democratic Sen. Max Cleland ahead by five points, but he mysteriously lost to his GOP foe, Saxby Chambliss, by seven points. Georgia was the first state to use electronic voting devices almost exclusively.
In Minnesota, Sen. Paul Wellstone was a shoo-in for re-election when he died in a plane crash. Democratic former Vice President Walter Mondale, who led significantly days before the election, replaced him. Shockingly, Republican Norm Coleman was the recipient of an unexpected 11-point vote shift on Election Day but no one checked the vulnerable chips that tabulated the votes.
Bush's standing among the few remaining "undecided" voters is weak. Only 31 percent of them think the United States is headed in the right direction, and 32 percent disapprove of his job performance. Bush's attempts to woo ethnic voters have flopped. Latino voters favor Kerry 69 percent to 19 percent. Despite pandering to Likud, Bush trails Kerry with Jewish voters by the same margin he lagged behind Gore in 2000. Bush's emphases on wedge issues such as partial-birth abortion and gay marriage have failed him with Catholics who support Kerry by 52 percent to 37 percent.
Surprisingly, Kerry now leads Bush in the South (by 2 percent, according to a July 30 post-convention Newsweek poll), as well as in the East (22 percent) and West (7 percent); he trails the prez by 5 percent in the crucial Midwest. Kerry's lead in the "blue" (Democratic-leaning) states is now 12 percent, while Bush is only up by 2 percent in the "red" states. And among 18- to 29-year-old voters (whom Gore carried by only 2 percent), Kerry leads by a whopping 20 percent. Significantly, Kerry has a 25 percent lead among voters who didn't vote in 2000 and is attracting 75 percent of former Nader voters.
Finally, Kerry had huge convention bounces on issues and attributes, according to an Aug. 2 Associated Press/Washington Post poll. He leaped 16 percent on ability to handle healthcare better (leading Bush by 19 percent), rose 15 percent on terrorism (to trail by only 3 percent), leapt 14 percent on Iraq (now up by 2 percent), and by 12 percent each on taxes, education and the economy. The poll also showed Kerry now leading Bush by 9 percent on international relations and 5 percent on intelligence presumably information rather than IQ.