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Inside Politics

Kerry, Bush charge through showdown states

On final day of campaign, polls show race evenly split


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(CNN) -- As Election Day loomed, President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry campaigned Monday in many of the same key states that have received their attention in the past week.

Bush pressed home his message in in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico. He then headed to his home state of Texas, where he is heavily favored Tuesday. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, Candidate Tracker)

Kerry began his day in Florida before flying north to rallies in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. His final stop was held in the wee hours of Tuesday in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, capping a 16-hour campaign day.

"This is the choice, this is the moment of accountability for America," Kerry said at an airport rally in Orlando, Florida.

"This is the moment where the world is watching what you're going to do. ... All of the hopes and dreams of our country are on the line today."

Bush told a rally of the Republican faithful in Des Moines, Iowa: "Tomorrow, the people of this good state and the people of America go to the polls. I'm excited about Election Day. I'm looking forward to it.

"I'm also optimistic about the future of this country. I see a brighter day and a more hopeful day."

At an early morning rally Monday in Wilmington, Ohio, Bush said: "I will defend your deepest values, and I will work every day to make sure your families are safe. And you can count on me."

Later Monday, the two candidates held rallies an hour apart in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

At one point, as Kerry's motorcade made its way to Milwaukee, Bush's plane took off and flew parallel to the highway where the Democratic nominee was traveling, putting the motorcade and Air Force One in sight of each other.

Bush called on those at his Milwaukee rally to get fellow Republicans, "wise independents and discerning Democrats" to the polls for him.

"Remind them that if they want a safer America, a stronger America and a better America, to put me and Dick Cheney back in office," Bush said.

At Kerry's event in Milwaukee, the Democratic nominee stood on a large stage in the rain, surrounded by supporters bundled up in coats and hats and chanting "one more day."

"It may be one more day, but I promise you this: I will never forget this rally in the rain here in Milwaukee -- unbelievable, unbelievable," Kerry told his Democratic supporters.

Both men sought to show confidence and energy. Bush gave a thumbs up to reporters in Ohio and later compared the race to a marathon.

"That finish line is in sight," Bush told reporters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "I just want to assure you I've got the energy, the optimism and the enthusiasm to cross the line."

Kerry said in Orlando he felt "ready to go, ready to win." In an interview recorded over the weekend and broadcast Monday on ABC, the junior senator from Massachusetts said, "You wind up, obviously, at a pace that's absolutely extraordinary. But I feel very, very fit."

After his last campaign stop, Kerry heads home to Boston for Election Day. Bush will go to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he will vote before returning to the White House to watch the results.

On the way, Bush will make a stop in Columbus, Ohio, to thank supporters and campaign volunteers, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.

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. (Poll: Bush, Kerry split six key states)

An 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. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, Poll Tracker)

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll among likely voters nationwide also showed possible voter shifts on the issues of Iraq and terrorism.

Those surveyed said Kerry would handle Iraq better by a 2-point margin, 49 percent to 47 percent -- a 6-point shift in the Democrat's favor since last week's poll. And when asked who would better handle terrorism, respondents chose Bush 51 percent to 44 percent -- a change from 57 percent to 39 percent a week earlier.

Kerry has consistently polled ahead of Bush on a host of domestic issues, particularly the economy.

Polls in six showdown states found very tight races. Kerry led Bush narrowly among likely voters in Ohio and Florida and by 8 points in Minnesota. The president led his challenger by narrow margins in Pennsylvania and Iowa and by 8 points in Wisconsin. (Opinion poll figures; Showdown states: Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin)

In Ohio, meanwhile, a legal tussle continued Monday over whether the Democratic and Republican parties would be allowed to have operatives inside polling stations to challenge voters whose registrations they believe might be suspect.

Democrats have accused Republicans of planning to use the challenge process to intimidate voters. Republicans insist it is a necessary safeguard against what they claim was widespread fraud in registration drives that added more than 800,000 voters to the rolls in the Buckeye State.

Two U.S. District Court judges ruled Monday that the challengers should be excluded, but Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro appealed the ruling to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ruling in a legal challenge brought in state courts, the Ohio Supreme Court said one challenger per precinct should be admitted, though that decision would be superseded by the U.S. District Court rulings, unless the federal appellate court reverses them.


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