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Inside Politics

Bush, Kerry sprint to the finish

Both candidates hit Florida on pre-election Sunday


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President Bush speaks at a rally in Coconut Grove, Florida, on Sunday. John Kerry addresses a congregation in Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday.
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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- With less than 48 hours to go before the presidential election, Sen. John Kerry and President Bush reached out to voters in key states Sunday.

CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls over the weekend indicated the race was evenly split between the two candidates -- and was so close in some showdown states that an electoral victory was impossible to predict. (Gallup polls)

The average of six national polls conducted in the past three days indicated Bush with 48 percent support among those interviewed, and 46 percent favoring Kerry. Given the margins of error in the polls, the difference was statistically insignificant. (Poll of polls)

Both camps also insisted their candidate was in the lead heading toward the finish line. (CNN.com's Poll Tracker)

Traveling furiously from rally to rally, the two men focused on their broadest messages and avoided some of the squabbling over daily headlines that has dominated their speeches over the past week.

Bush attended three events Sunday in Florida, introduced by his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. Kerry ended his day in Florida, too, after stops in Ohio and New Hampshire. (Showdown state: Ohio)

Kerry projected confidence as he stood before a crowd in Manchester, many of whom held signs that said "2" -- the number of days until the election. (Showdown state: New Hampshire)

"I can't wait 'til I see '1' tomorrow and '0' on Tuesday, and then roll up our sleeves and get to work for America," he said.

"The world is waiting for us to lead again. I know you will make the choice that will help us take this country to a stronger place, and the world to a safer place," Kerry said.

"I pledge to you: I know what we need to do in Iraq, and I know what we need to do to make the world safe. What we need to do is begin by having a president of the United States who's willing to look the American people in the eye and tell them the truth," he said.

At a rally in Miami, Bush spoke both Spanish and English to his audience, which included many Cuban-Americans and opponents of the regime of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. (Showdown state: Florida)

"Over the next four years we will continue to press hard and ensure that the gift of freedom finally reaches the men and women of Cuba," Bush said, provoking loud applause and chants of "Viva Bush!"

Bush painted Kerry as untrustworthy and inconsistent, repeating a campaign staple: "If America shows uncertainty or weakness during these troubled times, the world will drift toward tragedy -- this is not going to happen on my watch."

"Ultimately, this election comes down to who can you trust. I offer a record of leadership and results in a time of challenge, and I ask for your vote," he said.

Bush and Kerry both promised significant improvements on a slew of domestic concerns and highlighted their competing foreign policy visions.

Bush said he is the one who can stand up to the threat posed by terrorists and build peace in Iraq. Kerry said he understands how to use tools such as intelligence and how to cooperate with other nations to lead the war on terror and improve the situation in Iraq.

"This country needs strong, determined, optimistic leadership, and I'm ready for the job," said Bush at a rally in Tampa.

"We need a president who can do more than one thing at the same time," Kerry said in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Both men attended church services. Kerry attended two -- a Catholic Mass and Baptist services in Ohio. Bush, a Methodist, attended a Catholic service in Florida. (CNN.com's Candidate Tracker)

Although Bush's service was closed to the media, Kerry's speech at an African-American Baptist church in Dayton was open.

"We are going to work to do what we need to do to heal the wounds of this country, to be one America -- not just 'red states' and 'blue states,' but red, white and blue for every single American," Kerry told the congregation.

Neither candidate mentioned a new videotape from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Aides to both said the candidates do not want to be seen as politicizing the issue. (Bin Laden tape probed)

Bush did not comment on the tape Sunday. In an interview broadcast on ABC, Kerry said he was "outraged that he has appeared. I'm outraged that he inserts himself in any kind of way into the electoral process of America."

Campaign surrogates on both sides battled over the fallout of the tape on Sunday talk shows, offering differing takes on who would be helped politically -- with each side accusing the other of misusing the tape for political gain.

The vice presidential candidates were busy on the campaign trail as well. Sen. John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, spoke at a rally in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, before traveling to Ohio.

Vice President Dick Cheney attended campaign events in Ohio and Iowa. He then traveled to Hawaii, a Democratic stronghold that has recently emerged as a possible swing state; former vice president Al Gore and Kerry's daughter Alexandra made a trip to Hawaii on Saturday.

With the focus largely on turnout, both Bush and Kerry have thousands of workers and volunteers laboring hard in the battleground states -- from Iowa to Wisconsin to Ohio to New Jersey.

Teams of lawyers are ready to pounce in case of reports of irregularities at the polls.

Both campaigns said they believe it will be clear by late Tuesday night who the next president will be.

But the specter of lengthy legal battles that could leave the results up in the air for weeks -- as they did in 2000 -- continues to hang over the race.


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