Kerry planned to conclude his day with a late-night rally tonight in Des Moines, Iowa, one of several battleground states in the upper Midwest. He plans at least two stops each day until Nov. 2 in hopes of building on the momentum he earned in the debates.
The Kerry campaign said its internal polls and focus groups showed the candidate making significant gains on character issues, such as honesty and leadership, two areas in which Bush has often enjoyed a commanding edge.
Mike Donilon, a top Kerry adviser, said Kerry's improvement on the "character dimension" has helped solidify support among independent and undecided voters, and "essentially undo" perceptions that the Democratic nominee is a flip-flopper who cannot be trusted in a time of war.
Kerry laced his debate answers with frequent references to God and scripture as part of a strategy to appeal to religious voters who are ubiquitous in many of the battleground states.
Early next week, Kerry will deliver a speech elaborating on his values and beliefs, a top aide said.
Stanley Greenberg, who conducts polls for Kerry, said Bush lost the debate by about five points, but lost more ground on the character issues. Greenberg called this the "most striking" result of the debate.
Kerry and Bush strategists largely agree on the battlefield, and who is winning in each state -- save Ohio. While the Bush campaign says it is winning Ohio, Kerry's internal polling shows the president losing by about five points and fading, according to two aides. Kerry will campaign in Ohio this weekend and many more times before election day.
The Kerry campaign is confident that it is winning Pennsylvania and Michigan by comfortable margins and pulling slightly ahead in Florida, a must-win state for Bush. The Kerry campaign's polling shows Bush leading in Iowa and West Virginia, and running about even in Wisconsin.
Kerry, however, has largely failed to erode the president's strong support among rural voters, especially in the upper Midwest, and among the devoutly religious, according to Greenberg. Democrats credit Bush's support among the religious and rural for small, but significant, leads in Iowa, which Gore won in 2000, and West Virginia, as well as stronger-than-expected numbers in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Edwards stumped today in Iowa, where he focused his post-debate comments largely on health care, Washington Post staff writer Chris L. Jenkins reported. As he has since his own debate with Cheney early last week, Edwards blasted his Republican rivals for their policies in Iraq and at home, while also stressing elements of Kerry's plan to support stem-cell research and offer health care to all Americans.
"You look at the health care crisis in this country -- this president has no solution. All he's offering is more of the same," Edwards said to a group of several hundred Sioux City residents, who asked several questions about health care and Medicare costs.
In a break from his normal routine, Edwards traveled by bus through Iowa today, before a flight to Des Moines where he will meet Kerry for a joint rally tonight.
VandeHei reported from Las Vegas.