The Kerry campaign already has a television commercial airing in some battleground states featuring actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, that calls for expanded research using embryonic stem cells. Greenberg told reporters yesterday that Kerry had scored particularly well with college-educated voters on that question.
Kerry advisers said they believe the senator's performances in the debates are helping to erase questions about his fitness to serve as commander in chief, a vital threshold for the challenger to cross. They also said that whenever external events warrant, they will hammer Bush on his Iraq policies, as they did this past week after a new report showed that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had neither weapons of mass destruction nor the capacity to produce them at the time of the war.
But senior Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart told reporters the campaign hopes to spend the final weeks talking mostly about domestic issues. "We're very much looking forward to Wednesday night, where it's 90 minutes of domestic issues and will really allow us to frame up what we will think will be the last . . . three weeks of the campaign," he said.
Despite some small differences, Kerry and Bush strategists largely agree with each other on how the electoral map shapes up. Bush's once-strong lead in Ohio has eroded, according to various polls and private assessments. Florida remains tight, and the hurricane-racked state has been a pollster's nightmare for the past month. Neither campaign takes either state for granted at this point. Pennsylvania has begun to move toward Kerry, but Bush will fight for it until the end.
The upper Midwest remains the principal battleground. Kerry has the edge in Michigan, but Bush has been leading in Wisconsin. Kerry advisers say the state has begun to move back in their direction but will be hard-fought until the election. Iowa remains even more problematic for Kerry at this point.
Minnesota continues to lean toward Kerry, but Bush campaigned there yesterday. Missouri appears to be Bush country right now. Kerry has stopped advertising there, and his advisers show no signs of trying to compete seriously there unless the overall race moves more dramatically.
The year began with four western states as potential battlegrounds: New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. Arizona looks good for Bush, according to both campaigns. New Mexico, which Al Gore won by fewer than 400 votes in 2000, remains highly competitive, as does Nevada, a Bush state four years ago. Kerry advisers say they will continue to fight for Colorado, and Bush advisers express some concern about the state.
Bush plans to campaign in the Northwest after the Arizona debate, with stops in Oregon, where Kerry has a narrow lead. But Republicans fear Kerry may be in solid shape in Washington.
Several smaller states continue to occupy the campaigns. New Hampshire, a Bush state four years ago, is a battleground Kerry aides believe they can win. In Maine, one of two states without a winner-take-all policy for the electoral college, Kerry's advisers predict he will win the overall vote but worry that Bush could steal one electoral vote by winning the state's northern congressional district. A senior Bush campaign official said West Virginia, which voted for the president in 2000, is moving strongly in Bush's direction, and Democrats agree that Kerry's positions on cultural and social issues are tough to overcome there.
Republicans still hold out hope of a major upset in New Jersey, a Democratic state where polls have shown as closer than expected. In a sign of concern inside the Kerry camp, Edwards has visited the state twice in nine days. Cheney will speak there Monday. But a top Kerry aide said the campaign doubts a candidate such as Bush, who opposes abortion and gun control, can win there.
Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said he believes that only 6 to 8 percent of voters remain undecided. "They don't vote, or they split between the two candidates," he said. But Kerry officials still see undecided voters more likely to side with the challenger. Bush officials say the dynamics of the race are set in stone and only an outside event such as a terrorist attack or major development in Iraq will shake it up. "We are in a different world, because there are a small number of undecided voters and a large volume of information for all voters," Mehlman said. "This is not a situation where there are a large number of voters who are getting their first look."