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
''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.'
GOP ADMITS GAIN
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