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Final Blitz in Swing States

By Lois Romano and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 1, 2004; Page A01

DAYTON, Ohio, Oct. 31 -- Sen. John F. Kerry and President Bush began a final two-day blitz through the most competitive battlegrounds Sunday, with Kerry wooing his base at a black church, preaching a gospel of economic hope, and the president crisscrossing Florida, questioning his challenger's credentials to keep the nation safe from terrorists.

Two days before the election, the candidates and their running mates were in a frenetic race, circling each other and pressing whatever advantage they have to make closing arguments.

President Bush speaks to a crowd of supporters in Tampa as he criss-crossed Florida two days before the election. (Hillery Smith Shay - AP)

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New polls continued to paint a portrait of an extraordinarily close race and an electorate divided by the same fissures that have shaped the political landscape since the disputed election of 2000. Officials in both campaigns said they detected no significant trend in either direction since the release of a videotaped message by Osama bin Laden on Friday afternoon.

The latest Washington Post tracking poll showed Bush and Kerry each with 48 percent and independent Ralph Nader at 1 percent. Four other national polls released Sunday showed Bush leading Kerry by 1 to 3 percentage points -- in all cases within the margin of error.

State polls offered few clues to the outcome, with Ohio and Florida still the most significant and hotly contested states. Strategists on both sides expressed optimism Sunday about their candidate's chances of winning Florida and said Ohio remains too close to call.

Kerry, in Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida, looked to make his case in the homestretch with domestic issues. Polls show that voters see issues such as the economy and health care as the Democrat's strength.

Kerry never mentioned his opponent by name in his remarks from the pulpit at Shiloh Baptist Church here, but the references were unmistakable, as he quoted scriptures and recited "Amazing Grace." He spoke of diminished after-school care, expensive health care and job losses.

"There is a standard by which we have to live," Kerry said. "Coming to church on Sundays and talking about faith and professing faith isn't the whole deal. . . . I hear politicians talk about values, but I don't see them."

Bush and Vice President Cheney also moved to secure their base and stuck to their perceived strength, national security. Speaking to a rally filled with Cuban Americans in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood, Bush said Kerry "entered the flip-flop hall of fame" for his assertion that he had voted for, then against, an $87 billion package to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If you believe America should fight the war on terror with all her might and lead with unwavering confidence, I ask you, come stand by me," Bush said to cries of "Viva Bush."

Bush also made a direct appeal to Cuban Americans, saying, "We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on, until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedoms in Havana they received here in America."

Although Bush's remarks continue to be aimed at the concerns of his most fervent supporters, his remarks Sunday included an extra bit of outreach. "If you are a Democrat who believes your great party has turned too far left in this year, I ask you, come stand with me," he said. "If you are a minority citizen and you believe in free enterprise and good schools and the enduring values of family and faith, if you're tired of your vote being taken for granted, I ask you, come stand with me."

Bush has courted churchgoers vigorously. Before the rally, he attended Mass at Church of the Epiphany, the home church of his younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The pastor, Monsignor Jude O'Doherty, all but endorsed Bush in remarks to the congregation. "Your belief in prayer and dependence on God has to be an example for all of us," O'Doherty said. "As president, your support for the many things of serious concern to us as Catholics is deeply appreciated, among them being your wholehearted support for human life from conception to natural death."

Cheney accused Kerry of turning his back on U.S. troops because of political ambition. Kerry "is not a steadfast leader. Our president is," Cheney told several hundred supporters at an airplane hangar in Toledo. He later referred to Kerry as "a wannabe commander in chief."

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