WASHINGTON — New polling data suggest that Sen. John Kerry has made little headway with voters in six states that President Bush narrowly won in 2000.
If Kerry wins only the states that Democrat Al Gore won in 2000, he will have 260 electoral votes, 10 shy of the number needed to win the White House.
In polling conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research for MSNBC and other media in the six states — Arizona, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and West Virginia — Kerry is statistically tied with Bush in only one state, West Virginia, and trails in the others.
Kerry is furthest behind in Arizona, where Bush leads him by 11 percentage points.
With only six full weeks of campaigning left, Kerry faces a difficult task in bringing voters in Republican-leaning states over to his side. So Kerry has invested heavily in Ohio, Nevada and West Virginia in a bid to pry some of the Bush states into his column.
The Bush campaign has not yet agreed to specific dates or formats for televised debates but, if it takes place, the first debate scheduled by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, in Coral Gables, Fla. on Sept. 30, will be Kerry’s best chance to change the campaign’s momentum.
Of the so-called "red" states polled by Mason-Dixon, the one with the biggest electoral clout is Ohio, with 20 electoral votes. Bush carried Ohio in 2000 by 165,000 votes, or 3.5 percent.
In Ohio, the Democrat lags Bush, 42 percent to 49 percent, with seven percent undecided.
Since June 1, Kerry has spent 13 days campaigning in the state. Kerry and his allies ran a television ad barrage in the state last month: Six of their 10 most heavily saturated media markets in the country were in Ohio, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus and the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project.
The Democratic group America Coming Together has also invested heavily in Ohio, with a staff of anti-Bush activists working to register and turn out voters.
The poll of 625 registered Ohio voters was conducted on Sept. 14 and 15. All 625 said that were likely to vote in the Nov. 2 election. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points, the same margin of error for the other Mason-Dixon polls.
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Security the top concern
The Ohio poll found that most of those surveyed regard terrorism and national security as the most important issue in deciding their vote this November.
Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed in Ohio said terrorism was the most important issue, while 20 percent said the state of the economy was the most important.
HARDBALL'S HORSERACE: Your daily scorecard on the presidential campaign.A large majority, 57 percent, of Ohio respondents favored amending the state’s constitution to allow legal recognition only of traditional heterosexual marriages.
Ohio is one of 11 states where proposed state constitutional amendments limiting marriage to man-woman couples are scheduled to be on the ballot on Election Day.
Social conservative leaders expect that those measures will increase turnout among conservative voters and that, in turn, may well benefit Bush.
In Missouri, a state constitutional amendment to limit marriage was approved in an Aug. 3 vote by a landslide, 71 percent.
And on Saturday, Louisiana voters approved a similar state constitutional measure by an even bigger landslide: 78 percent of the vote.
Of the states surveyed by Mason-Dixon, the one where Kerry appears to have the best chance is West Virginia, where he is locked in a statistical tie with Bush.
Job scarcity in West Virginia
The poll suggested that scarcity of jobs is one reason why West Virginia voters may be discontented with the president: 63 percent of West Virginia respondents said jobs in their community were hard to find, while in Ohio 48 percent said jobs were hard to find.
The two states have only slightly different unemployment rates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with Ohio at 5.8 percent and West Virginia at 5.1 percent in August. The national average unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in August.
In another hotly contested state, New Hampshire, which Bush won by 7,211 votes, or 1.3 percent, last time, the poll shows him with 49 percent to Kerry’s 40 percent.
On Sunday, Bush was to appear at the opening of NASCAR race in Loudon, N.H., followed by a campaign forum in Derry, N.H. Kerry is scheduled to campaign Monday in New York and Tuesday in Florida.
In the traditional bellwether state of Missouri, which Bill Clinton easily carried in 1992 and again in 1996, but which Gore lost by nearly 80,000 votes, Democratic strategists earlier this year had hopes of pulling the state away from Bush, but now appear to be lessening their efforts there.
Kerry trails Bush in Missouri by seven points with nine percent undecided.
Another poll released Friday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and television station KMOV likewise found Bush with a seven-point edge over Kerry in Missouri.
Independent candidate Ralph Nader does not play much of a factor in the states surveyed by Mason-Dixon. His strongest showing was in New Hampshire where three percent of respondents said they’d vote for him.
Disinterest in Vietnam Era
Another strikingly insignificant factor in the voters’ decisions is the mêlée over what both Bush and Kerry did during the Vietnam War era.
In Ohio, for example, eight of 10 respondents said the rival candidates’ Vietnam-era activities would play no role in deciding which candidate to support. Mason-Dixon found almost identical results in the other six states it surveyed.
One constant in the Mason-Dixon polling in all the states is that roughly seven out of 10 Bush supporters said they supported him because they like him very much.
Many self-identified Kerry supporters, on the other hand, expressed ambivalence about their candidate. In Missouri, for instance, one out of every four Kerry supporters said they were voting for him only because they disliked the other candidates, while 39 percent said they’d vote for Kerry because they like him.
And in Ohio, 31 percent of Kerry supporters said they would vote for him because they disliked the other candidates; 43 percent of Kerry supporters said they were voting for him because they like him.
The Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and West Virginia polls were commissioned by MSNBC and Knight-Ridder newspapers.
In Nevada, where both Bush and Kerry have advertised heavily on television stations in Reno and Las Vegas, Bush leads with 50 percent to Kerry's 45 percent, according to a poll done for the Las Vegas Review Journal.
A particular concern to voters there is the Bush administration's decision in 2002 to make a Nevada site, Yucca Mountain, a repository for nuclear waste. Among voters in the Third Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Jon Porter is fighting a closely watched battle with Democratic challenger Tom Gallagher, 63 percent of voters said Bush’s decision to make Yucca Mountain the nuclear waste repository would have no influence on their presidential vote.
In the most recent national survey, a New York Times/CBS News poll published Saturday, Bush leads Kerry among likely voters by nine points, 51 percent to 42 percent. The margin of error in the Times/CBS News poll was plus or minus three percentage points.
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