not looking good for the chimp

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    Swing states lean to Kerry
    By Susan Page, USA TODAY

    WASHINGTON — Sen. John Kerry has erased President Bush's modest lead and the two candidates head into Election Day tied at 49%-49%, a nationwide USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows as an extraordinarily bitter and expensive campaign prepared to end.
    Across the dozen battleground states expected to determine the winner, Kerry holds a 5-percentage-point edge — including small leads among likely voters in the critical states of Ohio and Florida. He trails by a similar margin in the third big battleground, Pennsylvania. (Related link: States pushed to front of race)

    But USA TODAY polls nationwide and in six competitive states show a contest that either candidate could win. The battle between mammoth get-out-the-vote operations and the prospect of a flood of new voters are key to whether Bush wins four more years or joins his father as a one-term president.

    The findings suggest that Osama bin Laden's warning to Americans in a video broadcast Friday failed to provide the boost for Bush that some analysts predicted. That development and the disclosure last week that 377 tons of high explosives were missing from an Iraqi site U.S. troops failed to secure seemed to have damaged his standing.

    A week earlier, Bush had led Kerry on who would better handle the situation in Iraq by 11 percentage points; that edge shrank to 4 points. The 22-point advantage Bush had held in handling terrorism was cut in half.

    Last week, Bush led Kerry 51%-46%.

    The new survey of 1,573 likely voters, taken Friday through Sunday, has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

    "It seems like a scary Halloween for George Bush," Kerry pollster Mark Mellman says. "People in this country clearly want a fresh start."

    Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush campaign, said that the race is close but that Bush is in a good position. He disputes Gallup's assumptions about the 3% of likely voters who said they were undecided.

    Gallup's formula assumes that 9 of 10 of those voters would support Kerry, based on analyses of previous presidential races involving an incumbent.

    Without allocating those voters, Bush led Kerry 49%-47% among likely voters. Among the larger group of registered voters, Kerry led Bush 48%-46%.

    The candidates crisscrossed the same territory on Sunday. Bush stumped in Florida — with rallies in Miami, Tampa and Gainesville — before flying to Cincinnati. Kerry campaigned in Dayton and New Hampshire before heading to Tampa. Bush asked for support from wavering Democrats and vowed to prosecute the war on terror. Kerry promised a "flurry of activity" and "real steps" if elected to protect the nation's security.

    In the surveys:

    • A 52% majority said they were dissatisfied with the way things were going in the USA. Bush's job-approval rating slipped to 48%, below the 50% benchmark critical for incumbents.

    • Terrorism was the most important issue cited by voters in the national poll and in Florida and Pennsylvania. But in four Midwestern states — Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin — the economy was ranked first.

    • In Florida, 30% of registered voters said they already had cast their ballots, using early voting sites and absentee ballots. They supported Kerry 51%-43%.

    And Ralph Nader?

    The independent candidate who helped swing the 2000 election to Bush isn't much of a factor this time. Among 1,573 likely voters, he was backed by 9.
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