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Inside Politics

Republicans ready for convention attention

Watch Carlos Watson Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CNN's Paula Zahn Now and on Fridays at 5 p.m. ET on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports.
America Votes 2004
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
Lisa Murkowski

(CNN) -- As Republicans head to New York to rally the party, The Inside Edge looks at what the convention might mean for President Bush's chances in the fall. We'll also tell you what a few state ballot initiatives might mean for his opponent John Kerry.

Join me during the convention, as The Inside Edge kicks into high gear with two postings per day. Each morning, I'll tell you what the Republicans are hoping to achieve, and each night after the keynote speech, I'll close with my take on how the GOP fared that day.

Poll position

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows President Bush and Sen. John Kerry locked in a dead heat among registered voters.

Historically, this does not put Bush in good campaign company. The last time an incumbent race was this close was in late August in 1980, when challenger Ronald Reagan denied Jimmy Carter a second term.

Since 1972, six incumbent presidents have run for re-election. Only three (Nixon, Reagan and Clinton) won, and in each of those cases they were ahead in late August Gallup polls by more than 10 points. The losing incumbents were not.

(It's worth noting, however, that Nixon and Reagan accepted the GOP nomination earlier in August perhaps fueling their double-digit leads later in the month.)

Whether or not he gets a bounce in the national polls, President Bush may benefit from the upcoming Republican convention. Like Kerry he may be able to declare his party's convention a success if he gets a boost in some key swing state polls.

Kerry seemed to get some swing-state bounces in the far west (Oregon and Washington) and New England (New Hampshire) after the Democratic National Convention.

For the president, success would mean getting a lift in key southern and border states including Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. If he does that, coupled with Kerry's recent success, it may more tightly focus the swing state map on the Midwest/Middle Atlantic, Southwest and Florida.

Hot ballot initiatives, Part two

Last week, I wrote about some major ballot initiatives in swing states that may influence the presidential election. Here is part two of my look at three intriguing state measures -- two of which could affect the presidential election and one that could affect an important U.S. Senate race.

In the swing state of West Virginia, voters will decide in November whether to pay $8 million for veterans' health benefits out of state coffers. Watch to see if Kerry picks up on this ballot initiative by charging that the president has done such a poor job of providing for veterans' health services that states now need to reach deep into their own coffers to care for America's brave former soldiers. Although West Virginia has traditionally been a very Democratic state, in 2000 President Bush carried it.

In Alaska, Democrats are trying to affect the Senate race by putting a measure on the November ballot that would require any prematurely vacant U.S. Senate seat to be filled by special election rather than gubernatorial appointment.

The initiative stems from the nepotistic appointment of Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski, who was given the seat by her father, former Sen. Frank Murkowski, when he was elected governor two years ago. Democrats have charged that Lisa Murkowski, a former state senator, is under-qualified and want to keep the issue in front of the voters when the general election rolls around.

Finally, Colorado voters may go to the polls to decide the most fundamentally significant political measure of the year -- whether the state should cast its nine presidential electoral votes proportionally instead of "winner takes all." If the measure passes, Colorado will join Maine and Nebraska as the only states that use some kind of proportional presidential electoral system. Moreover, if it passes, the new law will immediately apply to the 2004 contest.

To appreciate how significant that could be, consider this: In 2000, if a proportional rule had been in effect, Colorado's then eight electoral votes (they have picked up one since then as a result of census reapportionment in 2002) would have been split five to three by Bush and Al Gore. As a result, Gore would have won the election with 270 electoral votes to Bush's 268 (instead of losing 271 to 268).

Ballot initiatives -- another important thing to watch in this year's unpredictable election season.

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