A new crop of polls in six Democratic-leaning states released Monday showed that John Kerry has a lead in Michigan, while running neck-and-neck or trailing President Bush in five other states.
Most electoral vote strategizing begins with the assumption that Kerry would be able to hold all or nearly all of the 19 states Al Gore won in 2000. He could then add some of the states Bush narrowly won four years ago in order to get the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
But the new polling data from Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin indicate that Kerry has much work to do on Democratic turf in the six weeks that remain before the votes are counted on election night.
With only 41 days of campaigning left, every day Kerry spends bolstering his support in states that Gore won in 2000 is a day he can't invest in the states Bush narrowly won, such as Nevada.
On the other hand, if Kerry leaves a state such as Pennsylvania, where he and Bush are tied in current polls, "unprotected" with no personal visits, then he risks having it slip away.
In the latest MSNBC/Knight Ridder/Mason-Dixon polling, Kerry is furthest behind in Iowa, which hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since the Reagan avalanche of 1984.
In 2000, Bush lost Iowa and its seven electoral votes by only 4,144, or three-tenths of one percent.
Bush leads Kerry in Iowa, 48 percent to 42 percent, according to Mason Dixon which interviewed 625 likely voters in each state on Sept. 13 and 14.
The state surveys each have a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Perhaps most worrisome of the six states for Kerry strategists is Pennsylvania, with its 21 electoral votes.
The Mason-Dixon survey shows the race in the Keystone State to be a statistical tie between Kerry and Bush, just as three other Pennsylvania polls by different firms in the last two weeks have shown a tie.
If Kerry were to lose both Pennsylvania and Ohio, where recent polls show him slightly trailing Bush, he would be very hard pressed to come up with the 270 electoral votes he needs.
Gore won Pennsylvania by more 200,000 votes or 4.3 percent last time.
Economy versus Iraq
The Pennsylvania poll data showed a fracture between those voters who rank the performance of the economy as the most significant issue and those who rank Iraq or terrorism as the key issues.
Among Pennsylvania voters most concerned about the economy, 57 percent voiced support for Kerry. But among voters who picked Iraq or terrorism as the key issues, more than 70 percent backed Bush.
And for the small minority of voters who picked “moral issues and family values” as their top concerns, Bush won nearly 90 percent.
New Mexico, the state with the narrowest margin in 2000, is leaning toward Bush in the latest survey by Mason-Dixon, the Santa Fe New Mexican and KOB-TV.
Bush draws support from 47 percent of New Mexico respondents, while Kerry garners 43 percent. Independent Ralph Nader wins two percent and another seven percent said they are undecided.
Gore eked out a win in New Mexico by 366 votes out of nearly 600,000 votes cast. The state has five electoral votes.
New Mexico ballot skirmish
In high-stakes legal scrimmaging, Nader was booted off the New Mexico ballot Friday by state Judge Wendy York, but then found himself back on the ballot Monday after York recused herself from the case.
Nader supporters had pointed out that York made a $1,000 campaign contribution last April to Kerry. The ballot dispute has been reassigned to another judge for a hearing.
In Oregon, which Gore won by only 6,765 votes, less than one half of one percent, Bush has a slight lead, 47 percent to 43 percent, over Kerry with 9 percent undecided and Nader winning 1 percent.
Meanwhile in Wisconsin, where Bush fell short by 5,708 votes four years ago, he now appears to be locked in a statistical tie with Kerry, with 46 percent for Bush, 44 percent for Kerry, 1 percent for Nader and 9 percent undecided.
The ray of sunshine for Kerry in all this data is Michigan, where the Mason-Dixon survey found a six-point advantage for him. Michigan is a state with a legendary and formidable Democratic organization built on the bedrock of the United Auto Workers.
Kerry garners 47 percent in Michigan, Bush 41 percent, Nader 2 percent and 10 percent are undecided.
“Kerry’s economic message is resonating and working very well here,” said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and voters are listening to him.” Brewer said.
In August, Michigan’s unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, compared to the national average of 5.4 percent. In early 2000, Michigan’s unemployment rate hovered just above 3 percent.
Michigan voters are also up in arms about the cost of prescription drugs and want federal law changed so they can legally import pharmaceuticals from Canada where prices are controlled by the government.
In what is a big issue in Michigan, voters are unhappy that the state is one of the highest-volume states in the nation for the import of Canada's garbage. “The president could use the Environmental Protection Agency to stop these garbage imports today,” said Brewer. “Kerry has pledged to stop them.”
One constant in the state polls is that Bush fans voice strong support for him as person, with two-thirds or more saying they “like him very much,” while a markedly lower percentage of Kerry supporters say they like Kerry “very much.”
In Michigan, for example, 41 percent of Kerry supporters say they “like him very much,” compared to 70 percent of Bush’s supporters who voice that sentiment about him.