Jobs and the Economy at 10 Paces
In Two Vital States, President and Challenger Nearly Cross Paths
By Dan Balz and David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 1, 2004; Page A01
GREENSBURG, Pa., July 31 -- President Bush and John F. Kerry dueled over the economy as they campaigned Saturday in two of the nation's most jobs-sensitive states, intensifying their fight for control over a dozen-and-a-half battlegrounds likely to decide the election.
In Ohio, which has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, Bush defended his record and said with another four years, he would make the economy stronger. Acknowledging that workers in Ohio remain nervous about jobs going overseas, he said, "We must have a president who understands that in order to keep jobs at home." At a stop here southeast of Pittsburgh, Kerry questioned Bush's record and commitment, scoffing at his contention that the economy had turned a corner. "The last time we had a president who talked about turning the corner . . . was Herbert Hoover," he said.
Bush advisers see August as a critical period in the presidential race and have adopted a strategy designed to suppress Kerry's post-convention bounce, shore up Bush's standing in the battlegrounds and come out of their convention at the beginning of September with the race even. They worry that if Kerry begins the final two months of the campaign with a clear lead, the president's prospects for winning a second term will be in danger.
Bush and Kerry nearly crossed paths Saturday, as their multi-vehicle caravans rolled through western Pennsylvania. That will happen again Wednesday when the two candidates campaign around Davenport, Iowa. Their movements underscored the targeted geographic battle underway. Bush and Kerry are engaged in trench warfare in local media markets throughout the battleground states, with travel and messages dictated accordingly.
At this point, Kerry and Bush advisers agree that neither candidate has gained a clear advantage in the battleground states, which stretch from one coast to another and include targets in every region.
A mid-campaign look at those states, based on interviews with Kerry staffers and officials of independent groups supporting his candidacy, state delegation leaders at the Democratic National Convention, Bush campaign aides and GOP officials who set up a counter-headquarters in Boston, as well as state polls, suggests that Campaign 2004 remains extraordinarily competitive with 93 days left to the Nov. 2 election.
Kerry's convention energized the Democrats, and his campaign hopes to seize control of the race with its cross-country trip over the next two weeks. But the first national poll released since Kerry's Thursday night acceptance speech showed little gain for the Democrats.
The Newsweek poll showed Kerry and running mate John Edwards leading Bush and Vice President Cheney by 52 to 44 percent, a net gain of 2 percentage points from the magazine's poll in early July.
When independent Ralph Nader was included, Kerry led Bush by 49 to 42 percent, with Nader at 3 percent, a 4-point gain since early July. Smaller and therefore less reliable nightly samples suggested that Kerry had picked up more support after his acceptance speech. Later polls may show a clearer pattern.
The close race has heightened the intensity of campaigning for the crucial battlegrounds. Here is a region-by-region look at the race:
In the South, Florida remains the main battlefield, with Democrats arguing that several political developments have improved the ticket's chances in the state where Al Gore came achingly close to winning last time. An apparent split in the Miami Cuban community over new Bush-ordered restrictions on travel and remittances to Fidel Castro's country and the growth of non-Cuban Hispanic population in the Orlando area can help Kerry. But Republicans say the continued influx of tax-averse retirees from colder climates will offset any Democratic gains, and they believe Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will once again find the votes to help his brother.
The addition of Edwards to the ticket has put his home state of North Carolina into play, and Republicans agree that they cannot assume the state, which has gone for the GOP nominee six times in a row, is safely Bush's. Several of the state's major industries -- notably textiles and furniture -- have been hurt by imports, but it remains an uphill fight for the Democrats.
Democrats also have talked from time to time about -- and committed some TV dollars to -- Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee. Republicans dismiss claims they are battlegrounds and some Democrats not working for Kerry agree.
In the Northeast, the big prize is Pennsylvania, which Vice President Gore carried by 4 percentage points. In 2000, Bush fell well short of the margin he needed out of the Philadelphia suburbs. Republicans claim that Bush's 31 visits to the state, plus his initiatives on education and prescription drugs, have boosted his stock.
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