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Inside Politics

Poll: Presidential race remains dead heat

Kerry convention gains blunted


THE MORNING GRIND
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CNN's Bill Schneider on results of a newly released poll.

CNN's Kelly Wallace on the high stakes of the GOP convention.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The race for the White House between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry remains a statistical tie, with Kerry holding a single-point edge among registered voters, according to a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

The survey of 876 registered voters found Kerry leading Bush 48 percent to 47 percent. The margin of error in that poll, conducted August 23-25, was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Among the 709 people determined to be likely voters, Bush held a three-point lead over Kerry, 50 to 47 percent -- a figure unchanged since the last poll, three weeks ago. And this poll comes in the wake of a controversy over harsh ads questioning Kerry's decorated military service during the Vietnam War.

The margin of error among likely voters was 4 percentage points.

Asked what they thought of how Bush was handling his job as president, 49 percent of the total survey said they approved; 47 said they disapproved.

When independent Ralph Nader was added into the mix, Bush led Kerry by a 48-46 margin among likely voters, with 4 percent supporting Nader. The major-party candidates were tied at 46 percent among registered voters, with Nader drawing 4 percent again.

The poll was taken as Kerry attempted to fend off attacks on his Vietnam war record by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which has accused Kerry of lying to win combat decorations during the conflict and criticized his role in the antiwar movement after he returned home.

The survey indicates the ads and the controversy surrounding them may have helped Bush blunt any boost Kerry received since the Democratic National Convention, particularly on national security issues.

But they appear to have had little impact on the overall horse race, and the poll found that half of all adults hold Bush responsible for the anti-Kerry veterans' campaign.

Before the convention, when Kerry accepted the party's presidential nomination, Bush led Kerry by an 8 percentage-point margin -- 51 to 43 -- on the question of who would be a better commander-in-chief. After the convention, Bush and Kerry were tied at 48 percent apiece, but in the latest poll, the numbers returned to the same pre-convention margin.

Similar patterns emerged when voters were asked about which candidate would better handle the war in Iraq, where respondents preferred Bush 49 percent to 43 percent, and the global antiterror campaign, where Bush led Kerry 54-37.

Only 22 percent said Kerry's military service made them more likely to vote for him in November -- more evidence that the Swift Boat ads have neutralized the Massachusetts senator's military record as an asset. But 63 percent said Kerry is telling the truth about his military record, suggesting that most of those polled discount the charges raised by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The group is an independent "527" committee funded largely by Republican contributors from President Bush's home state of Texas. Its claims about Kerry's military record are contradicted by official Navy records, other veterans and, in some cases, by past statements from group members themselves.

Kerry accuses the group of being a front for the Bush campaign, an allegation Bush aides have strongly denied. The Democrat has called on Bush to disavow the ads, but Bush -- who has been the target of millions of dollars in advertising by Democratic-backed 527s -- has called instead for an end to all independent attack ads.

Among those surveyed in the latest poll, 56 percent said Bush should denounce the ads, and 50 percent said they consider him responsible for them. Forty-eight percent said they think Kerry has been the victim of unfair Republican attacks, while 43 percent say Democrats have attacked Bush unfairly.

The favorable ratings for Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, have dropped since August 1, with 52 percent saying they view both Kerry and Edwards favorably now. Bush's favorable rating was at 54 percent, while only 44 percent said they viewed Vice President Dick Cheney favorably.

But the Swift Boat Veterans ad campaign may have dampened public enthusiasm for voting this year as well: In the August 23-25 poll, only 60 percent said they were enthusiastic about voting compared with 69 percent who said they were enthusiastic about casting their vote in surveys after the Democratic convention.


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