Video: Focus on Florida staff and news service reports
updated 10/18/2004 2:17:49 PM ET 2004-10-18T18:17:49

President Bush is pulling ahead of John Kerry in three polls as the race for the White House approaches its final two weeks while a fourth poll finds the candidates are deadlocked.

While Bush was touting his plan to fight terrorism in New Jersey on Monday and Kerry was criticizing the president’s “arrogant boasting” about the war in Iraq, political pundits were parsing this poll data, most of it gleaned after the three debates between the two candidates:

  • Bush leads 52-44 percent among likely voters in a Gallup Poll taken for CNN and USA Today from Thursday through Saturday, up from 49-46 after the second debate.
  • Bush leads 50-44 among likely voters in a Newsweek Poll conducted Thursday and Friday.
  • Bush leads 50-46 in a tracking poll of likely voters taken Wednesday through Saturday for ABC News, up from 48-48 in the Tuesday-Friday period.

Another poll, released Monday, found the candidates deadlocked at 45 percent each among likely voters. The Reuters/Zogby three-day tracking poll gave the president a 46-44 percent lead over the Massachusetts senator the previous day, and a four-point lead the day before that.

“This is, as I have said before, the same kind of roller-coaster ride we saw in 2000 with the lead changing back and forth and neither candidate able to open up any kind of lead,” pollster John Zogby said.

The poll of 1,211 likely voters was taken Friday through Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. The rolling poll will continue through Nov. 1 -- the day before the election.

The Gallup Poll interviewed 1,013 adults and had a 4-point margin of error. The Newsweek Poll interviewed 1,004 registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. ABC’s poll surveyed 1,582 voters with a margin of error of 2.5 points.

While national polls such as these attempt to reflect popular sentiment among voters, the real presidential battle is the state-by-state contest for electoral votes. In that match, NBC News analysis currently has Bush winning or leading in states with 217 electoral votes while Kerry is winning or leading in states with 200 votes. The remaining states and their 121 votes are considered too close to call. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win.

Focus on terror
Bush, for his part, was telling voters in New Jersey — a state that hasn’t backed a Republican presidential candidate since 1988 — that his battle plan for fighting terrorists is better John Kerry’s.

As Bush headed to Marlton, a city in southern New Jersey, his campaign unveiled a new TV ad that portrays Kerry as weak on terrorism — “either we fight terrorists abroad or face them here” — and accuses the Democrat of opposing President Reagan “as he won the Cold War.”

Bush vs. Kerry issue-by-issueNearly 700 New Jersey residents died when hijacked airplanes flew into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, and polls show national security and terrorism are the top campaign issues among voters in the state.

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Democrat Al Gore easily won New Jersey in 2000, but voters’ worry about another terrorist attack is a key reason why Bush and Kerry are locked in a tight race for the state’s 15 electoral votes.

“From a lot of places in New Jersey you could see the towers,” Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political adviser, told reporters at a weekend campaign rally in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“A lot of people in New Jersey, a lot of communities in New Jersey felt personally the sting of 9/11. I think that has made them more sensitive — as we get close to the end — about the question of who will make America safer.”

Before heading to New Jersey, Bush signed a bill giving the Department of Homeland Security about $33 billion for the budget year that began Oct. 1.

The bill signing dovetailed with Bush’s New Jersey terrorism speech in which campaign officials said he would again mock Kerry’s comments on terrorism in a New York Times Magazine article Oct. 10.

“We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” the Massachusetts senator said.

Bush has been telling supporters at rallies that he couldn’t disagree more. “Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance,” he says. “Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive.”

Florida speech
In Florida, Kerry said that Bush sent troops into war without necessary equipment and accused the commander in chief of “arrogant boasting that he’s done everything right in Iraq.”

“Mr. President, your management or mismanagement of this war, your diversion from al-Qaida and from Osama bin Laden, your shift of the troops to Iraq when there was nothing to do with al-Qaida, nothing to do with 9/11, has made America less safe, not more secure,” Kerry said.

The Democrat’s campaign also rolled out a TV ad showing Bush saying “I truly am not that concerned about him” — a reference to Osama bin Laden. The ad seeks to make the case that “It’s time for a new direction” on Iraq and the war on terror. Bush denied in the final debate that he had ever said he wasn’t worried about Osama.

As for U.S. forces, Kerry referred to a report in The Washington Post that the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, said last winter that his supply situation was so poor that it threatened the troops’ ability to fight.

“Despite the president’s arrogant boasting that he’s done everything right in Iraq and that he’s made no mistakes, the truth is beginning to come out and it’s beginning to catch up with him,” Kerry said.

“I will never be a commander in chief who just cavalierly, ideologically and arrogantly dismisses the advice of our best military commanders in the United States.”

As he often does when talking about Iraq, Kerry highlighted statements critical of the Bush administration made by prominent Republicans, including Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana. Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that Kerry takes his words out of context on the campaign trail.

Kerry was in Florida urging voters to take advantage of laws that let residents cast their ballots for the Nov. 2 election beginning Monday.

He said an early vote would help prevent a repeat of the nail-biting finish of 2000 that saw the election decided in a Florida recount.

“This is important. If you vote early now, we don’t have to stay up late on Tuesday night, Nov. 2,” Kerry said. “I want you to get out and get the job done.”

Kerry also laid out a prescription for avoiding another flu vaccine shortage like the one this season.
He wants manufacturers to report vaccine supplies to public health officials, encourage the donation and public buyback of surplus vaccines, establish a reserve of the inoculations and encourage more drug makers to produce the vaccine.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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