"Working together for a free Cuba"




Bush, Kerry on way to key state of Florida.
By Lesley Clark

After three contentious debates and millions of dollars spent on ads, the contest between President Bush and challenger John Kerry is essentially a dead heat -- paving the way for what both campaigns promise will be a ferocious 18-day chase to the end.

And Florida promises to be key. Both campaigns turn Saturday from the Midwest and head straight to Florida and its coveted 27 electoral votes: Bush starts a three-city bus tour in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, while vice presidential aspirant John Edwards will be in Miami the same day. Kerry will appear in Fort Lauderdale Sunday before touring the swing-voter rich Interstate 4 corridor.

The visits come as the campaigns shift their attention from debate strategy to turning out the vote in about a dozen states still up for grabs, including Florida, where post-hurricane polls suggest voters appear eager to pay attention to a race still too close to call.

''We're back where we started before the first hurricanes hit and now it's open season,'' said independent pollster Jim Kane, publisher of Florida Voter in Fort Lauderdale. ``Voters have shaken off the hurricanes and they're ready to listen.''

Both campaigns claimed victory the day after Wednesday's debate, even as they tussled over remarks Kerry made about Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, Mary Cheney, who is gay.

Kerry brought up Mary Cheney's name when asked by the moderator whether being gay is a choice.

Campaigning in Florida ahead of his boss, Cheney lashed out at Kerry for interjecting his daughter into the debate, calling him a ``man who will do and say anything to get elected.''

Kerry said his comments were meant ``to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue.''

Despite the dust-up, most instant polls gave Kerry the edge. Democratic strategists dubbed it a Kerry 'three-peat' and suggested that their candidate succeeded in slicing into Bush's lead by turning in a consistent, credible performance over the three debates. They said

Kerry was able to deflate Republican attempts to paint him as a waffler.

Bush wounded himself with a testy performance in his first debate at the University of Miami, and only slowly recovered, Democrats argue.

Kane said Kerry's performance succeeded in putting air back into the Democrat's campaign.

''People were writing Kerry off a little early, that he hadn't yet made his case that he could replace George Bush,'' Kane said. 'After that first debate you had voters thinking, `You know, I could vote for him.' ''


Even Republicans acknowledged Thursday that Kerry had gained from the three debates, which drew tens of millions of viewers. Figures released Thursday suggested that the debates held the viewing public's interest: Wednesday's contest drew 51.2 million viewers -- more than the 46.7 million who watched the second debate, but short of the 62.5 million who watched the first face-off Sept. 30 at UM.

Marc Racicot, Bush's campaign chairman, insisted that any Kerry advantage would be fleeting as the campaigns turn to the final days.

Kerry ''did provide himself some temporary assistance with the first debate,'' Racicot said, but, ``it got more leavened in the second debate and then began to dissipate.''

Bush brushed off negative reviews.

''The pundits and the spinners -- they all have their opinions, but there's only one opinion that matters and that's the opinion of the American people on November 2,'' he told reporters during a rare visit to the press cabin on Air Force One. ``I feel great about where we are.

''My spirits are high,'' the president declared. ``I'm enthusiastic about my chances.''


A former Texas governor, Bush is taking a page from his 2000 campaign and dispatching Republican governors across the country to vouch for his leadership. New York Gov. George Pataki will campaign in Miami today and join Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at a rally in Orlando.

Their theme: echoing Bush's strategy of criticizing Kerry as a liberal senator wedded to big-government solutions.

Kerry is expected to hammer on a theme he began to sound in Orlando two weeks ago: that Bush sides with big corporations and donors at the expense of the working class.

Both campaigns this weekend plan to fire up what they call unprecedented ground campaigns that will go door to door and urge voters to the polls.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, chairman of Kerry's Florida campaign, likened the Democratic effort to the strongest of hurricanes.

''When it turns on,'' he said, ``it's going to be a Category 5.''

Source: The Miami Herald