On the (Re)Bounce

Despite the hype, polls show Kerry still holds lead in electoral vote count

Alan Waldman

Kerry Poppins?

Over the past fortnight, aided by both a gloves-off Republican Convention and the over-publicized Swift Boat liars attack on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the George W. Bush reelection campaign rebounded in both the popular vote and the electoral vote races.

Since mid-August, Kerry’s 7 percent lead in the popular vote reversed into a Bush lead of 1-11 points, depending on the poll. But an ongoing survey of nonpartisan state polls found Kerry’s substantial electoral-vote lead (which he steadily maintained since selecting John Edwards as his running mate in early July) plunged from 108 on August 24 to only eight votes three days later. Then, as a mounting stack of Navy documents and a growing chorus of first-hand accounts disputed GOP-funded attacks — and Kerry began responding to personal attacks launched against him during the RNC — the Democratic challenger’s advantage fattened to 58 electoral votes on September 7.

Kerry leads by a small margin in former Bush states Tennessee, Nevada and New Hampshire, while Bush is up in former Gore state New Mexico. At one time or another during the past two months, Kerry also led in former Bush states Florida, Arkansas, Ohio, Missouri, Arizona and West Virginia.

Kerry’s electoral vote lead can be largely attributed to the recent major shift of 11 states. Four former battlegrounds have moved to Kerry and seven former Bush states became freshly competitive. Although both presidential campaigns have focused money and attention on Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Michigan and New Mexico, those states have moved firmly toward Kerry. At the same time former Bush bastions Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Virginia are now in play. Eight ongoing battleground states are currently close; the candidates are within 6 percentage points of one other. And it now appears that Nader will not be a factor in the November 2 outcome.

The most significant 2004 state polling changes:

  • Kerry’s lead in Michigan went from 2 percent to 11 percent to the current 4 percent.
  • Since May 10, Oregon moved from Bush up 5 percent to Kerry up 11 percent.
  • Washington favored Bush in January, but Kerry’s ruled ever since, now ahead by 7 points.
  • Bush led New Hampshire by 15 percent in April but now trails by 7 percent.
  • Since March, Kerry has cut Bush’s lead in Nevada from 11 percent to 3 percent.
  • Over the last five months Tennessee swung from Bush up 19 percent to Kerry ahead 2 percent.
  • Since mid-July Bush’s Arizona margin dropped from 12 percent to 3 percent.
  • Colorado shifted from Bush ahead by 9 percent to a tie.
  • And over eight months, Bush’s 15 percent lead in Virginia plunged to 5 percent.

Bush has lately enjoyed Swift-Boat/RNC attack-dog bounces in Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma and several other states.

The short-term momentum is now clearly with Bush, but Kerry has consistently won in the long term. On September 3, Princeton University analyst and professor Sam Wang gave Kerry a 61 percent chance of winning the electoral vote. But before the Dems break out the bubbly, two massive pitfalls lie ahead.

First is the likelihood of an October surprise. Bush’s brain, Karl Rove, is widely believed to have a nasty trick or two up his sleeve. Pakistan may have trapped Osama bin Laden in an Afghan cave and could be planning to produce him just before November 2 — three years after our leader promised to bring him in dead or alive.” A few months ago, Mideast press reports warned that trucks hired by the United States were shipping weapons of mass destruction into Iraq — for timely discovery. And the way has been prepared to postpone the election if we suffer another terror attack.

Second, 98 million U.S. ballots will go into computers that could be used to falsify the results — with no paper record available for recounts (See Sum of a Glitch,” September 20). 

There is some evidence that voting machines turned elections in Georgia and Minnesota in 2002. A week before the Georgia vote, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed popular Democratic Sen. Max Cleland ahead by 5 points. He lost to rabid rightist Saxby Chambliss by 7 points — an inexplicable 12-point swing. Georgia was the first state to use electronic voting devices almost exclusively. In Minnesota, Sen. Paul Wellstone was a shoo-in for reelection when he died in a plane crash. Democratic former Vice President Walter Mondale replaced him and led significantly just days before the election, but Republican Norm Coleman benefited from an unexpected 11-point shift.

With more states using electronic machines lacking paper records and more Republican electoral tomfoolery afoot in Florida this year, Kerry may need a strong turnout in the honestly counted states to prevail.

This article was updated on September 212004

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Alan Waldman is an award-winning writer and political blogger.
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