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Stolen base

"Stolen base" Continued...

Issue: "2004 Election: Countdown," Oct. 23, 2004

The question for Republicans is whether they can convert ambivalence toward the Kerry ticket into support for the Bush team. In a park in Ohio City, a historic, ethnically mixed neighborhood in the shadow of downtown Cleveland, a dozen or so residents gave Mr. Bush high marks for defending the country against terrorism. "Of course they'd attack us again if they could," said Maxine Anderson, a healthcare worker. "I don't know what to think about Iraq, but I know I can sleep at night without worrying someone's going to blow me up. . . . When I wake up at night, I'm usually worrying about my job, not some terrorist somewhere."

If Mr. Bush can carry Ohio and pick off just one of the other Midwestern states that went for Al Gore four years ago, it would be almost impossible for Mr. Kerry to rack up the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the White House. The fact that so much of the region is in play says a lot about the power of incumbency-but even more, perhaps, about Mr. Kerry's own weakness among a key Democratic constituency.

Midwestern battleground

Wisconsin: Al Gore defied the polls four years ago to take Wisconsin by a margin of just 5,709 votes. This year, Mr. Bush is determined to maintain his slight polling edge, figuring Wisconsin is his best chance to steal a state from the Democrats' column. Milwaukee and Madison are liberal bastions, but even rural Wisconsin is less culturally conservative than farming areas in other Midwestern states. One plus for the president: The state's economy has held up relatively well despite the manufacturing downturn. Republicans were also pleased to see Ralph Nader win ballot access in Wisconsin, where he picked up nearly 95,000 votes last time around.

Minnesota: Just how liberal is Minnesota? It holds the distinction of being the only state that Ronald Reagan never managed to win. In fact, in 44 years, Minnesota has gone Republican only one time (in 1972, when Richard Nixon won). Al Gore won by 2.5 points in 2000, but polls this year show a tie. Unions are bleeding membership as manufacturing declines, and young, white-collar families in the suburbs of Minneapolis tend to be more conservative. That explains why Minnesotans elected a Republican senator and governor in 2002-and why Mr. Kerry might become the first Democratic loser here in more than 30 years.

Iowa: The day after his second debate, President Bush headed to Iowa, a state Al Gore carried by just one-third of 1 percent in 2000. The White House is encouraged by polls showing a dead heat in Iowa, where no Republican has won a presidential contest since 1984. That's forcing Mr. Kerry to spend heavily in a state he might be expected to win handily.

Missouri: In a state where nearly half of all voters identify themselves as evangelical Christians, social issues have helped to nudge 11 electoral votes toward the Bush column. Catholic Archbishop Raymond Burke said he would deny communion to Mr. Kerry because of his position on abortion, and Missouri voters just last month voted to ban gay marriage by a better than 2-to-1 margin. Thanks in part to such conservative social values, Mr. Kerry has pulled his advertising from one of the swingiest states in the country.

Michigan: Though John Kerry leads by 2 points in Michigan's latest polls, that's down considerably from the double-digit lead he enjoyed throughout most of the summer. Still, the odds against Mr. Bush remain formidable: Union members and inner-city black voters tend to be very liberal, while suburban Republicans are more moderate than the White House on many issues. Many churches are mobilizing a get-out-the-vote effort in opposition to same-sex marriage-an issue that may boost the president's numbers.
-with reporting by John Dawson

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