So many states, so little time. With days to go until Election Day, both parties are targeting eight to 10 swing states stretching from New Hampshire to Nevada with a last-minute barrage of ads and campaign visits. That's a lot of ground to cover, but it could have been worse. After his coronation at the Democratic National Convention, John Kerry talked optimistically of forcing President Bush to defend safely Republican states like Virginia, Louisiana, and Arizona. One by one those states have dropped off the political radar, along with swing states such as Missouri and West Virginia. Now Mr. Kerry can count on one hand the states he might realistically steal from the president's column. As always in politics, things are subject to change-but this late in the game, it would probably take an outside event such as a terrorist attack to shift the dynamics of the contest. Barring that, here is WORLD's up-to-the-minute summary of where the race will be won or lost.
Although the Bush-Cheney campaign promised to keep up heavy spending and campaigning in Pennsylvania, the president's chances of flipping the Keystone State look fairly slim. Throughout the campaign, Pennsylvania has never been in the "leans Bush" category; though it spent several weeks as a true "tossup," the state has most often-and most recently-been in the "leans Kerry" column. Indeed, if Mr. Bush manages an upset here, it could be the first sign of a nationwide blowout-say, 320 or more electoral votes for the GOP.
Mr. Bush won the Granite State by just 1.27 percent in 2000, and once again, all the polls show a statistical dead heat this time around. New Hampshire's population is clustered in the southern part of the state, near Massachusetts, so they've followed Mr. Kerry's career at close range. That may not be much of an advantage for the Democrat, however, given the state's fiscally conservative reputation.
In the wake of the Republican Convention, liberal New Jersey briefly moved into the tossup column. Even now, after three debates, Mr. Kerry's lead is barely outside the margin of error in most polls. If New Jersey remains too close to call throughout much of Election Night, it will be a sure sign of Bush momentum nationwide.
Mr. Kerry pulled his ads from the West Virginia airwaves on Oct. 15, essentially conceding another state he'd once hoped to steal from the GOP column.
The Buckeye State could be even closer than Florida this year. Republicans control almost every federal and statewide office, so voters could decide to punish the party for tough economic times. On the other hand, the GOP's past success gives it the advantage in crucial get-out-the-vote efforts. If John Kerry fails to steal Ohio from the Republican column, his chances of winning the White House are almost nil.
An Oct. 12 poll has the candidates tied at 47 percent each. Al Gore won Iowa by just 4,000 votes, and Mr. Kerry has been forced to spend heavily to preserve that advantage.
Though it might be Mr. Bush's best chance for a pickup, a late poll by The Chicago Tribune has Mr. Kerry's lead outside the margin of error. Other polls still show the race in a dead heat, however. If Mr. Kerry wins Ohio, Mr. Bush desperately needs to steal Wisconsin to remain in contention.
Mr. Kerry's advantage seemed to grow throughout the debates, but Mr. Bush's return to pre-debate numbers nationwide has Democrats on edge. In the upper Midwest, Minnesota is the Democrats' must-win state. If Mr. Bush manages to flip this one, it's probably all over.
The closest race in the country in 2000 looks like it's trending to the Republicans this year. Late Gallup polls show undecided voters breaking in favor of Mr. Bush, and Ralph Nader's 2 percent standing in the polls is further helping the president. New Mexico could prove pivotal: If Mr. Kerry wins Ohio and Mr. Bush flips just one of the three tossup states in the upper Midwest, Republicans would still need New Mexico's five electoral votes to reach the magic number of 270.
Mr. Bush led by 9 points in the last independent poll, but that was taken before any of the presidential debates. Though the race has certainly tightened, Nevada is still a challenge for Democrats: Except for two close Clinton victories, it hasn't gone for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Unless Mr. Kerry can flip Ohio or Florida, Nevada's five electoral votes won't really help him, anyway.