Kerry tries to regain lost ground in Ohio

Of all the bad news for Sen. John Kerry in recent days, perhaps nothing stung quite as much as this: He’s trailing President Bush in Ohio.

The Buckeye state and Florida are Kerry’s two biggest and best opportunities for overcoming the Republican incumbent’s advantages in the drive to 270 electoral votes. Since Bush took office, nearly 230,000 jobs have been lost and the unemployment rate has risen from 3.9 percent to 5.9 percent in Ohio – ripe targets for a challenger.

But the state has been trending Republican – and no GOP candidate has won the presidency without it – because of the conservative nature of Democrats and independents in rural Ohio and in the state’s booming suburbs. Social issues such as gun control and gay rights cut against Democratic candidates.

A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll showed Bush leading Kerry by 8 percentage points in Ohio after the Republican National Convention. The state has 20 electoral votes, more than enough to tip a close race.

Democrat Al Gore lost the state by 3.6 percentage points in 2000 after deciding late in the fall to shift money and staff from Ohio to Florida, where the race was eventually decided. Hedging his bets, Kerry plans to spend $18.9 million in television commercials in those two states this fall, 37 percent of his $50 million investment in 14 battleground states.

But he plans to spend twice as much in Florida, $12.3 million, as in Ohio, $6.6 million. Advisers say that is not a signal of the campaign’s priorities, only a reflection of the fact that Florida’s advertising costs are more expensive. Just as many ads are targeting persuadable voters in Florida as in Ohio, they say.

New Mexico small, but vital in close race

Democrat Al Gore won New Mexico by 366 votes in 2000, closer than the contested Florida race, and the Southwest battleground could be just as tight this year.

President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry are saturating the state with television advertisements and making frequent trips as well, making New Mexico a Top 10 target for both campaigns. Kerry can’t afford to lose Gore states, especially this one.

New Mexico has just five electoral votes out the 270 needed to win the presidency, but they could be critical. Bush beat Gore by just four electoral votes in 2000, after the Supreme Court stopped Florida’s recount with Bush 537 votes ahead.

A poll for the Albuquerque Journal conducted during the Republican National Convention gave Bush a slight lead, but strategists in both parties expect New Mexico to mirror national polls. If the race is a dead heat nationally, the state should be just as close.

New Mexico is part of a trend in the West and Southwest, where an influx of Hispanics and transplanted white voters are changing voting patterns. Four in 10 New Mexican voters are Hispanic, including the state’s governor, Bill Richardson.

Kerry hopes he can improve the turnout of Hispanic voters, a solid majority of whom vote Democratic.

Bush hopes to reduce Kerry’s advantages with Hispanics while courting conservative voters in the booming Albuquerque suburbs and rural New Mexico.

Nader says poverty kills more than terror

Philadelphia Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader told supporters Saturday that a far larger number of Americans die each year from poverty, hunger, pollution, dangerous jobs or poor access to high-quality health care than terrorism.

“Who weeps for these people?” Nader asked before remarking that it would take a press release from al Qaeda to get Democrats and Republicans to pay attention to the nation’s social ills.

Nader met with about 175 supporters in a Philadelphia church as many Americans observed the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Despite those attacks, Nader said, the United States has “no major enemy” in the world to fight and called on the major political parties to “end the politics of fear.”

Nader renewed his support for a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, development of a universal health care system, stricter anti-pollution rules, and a major reduction in the size of the U.S. military, including a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

GOP eager to help get Nader on ballot

Ralph Nader was dealt a blow in Florida last week when a judge barred him from the presidential ballot in the state. But the independent presidential candidate got some eleventh-hour legal help from a seemingly odd source: Ken Sukhia, a well-known Republican lawyer with ties to President Bush, has been hired by the campaign to fight the ruling. Sukhia helped the GOP with the nasty recount battle in 2000.

Nader has been attracting enthusiastic GOP help nationwide in his efforts to get on the ballot, infuriating Democrats who believe he will drain votes – again – from their candidate.

“What do people expect? Certainly the Democratic lawyers don’t want to help us, that’s for sure,” said Kevin Zeese, a spokesman for Nader. “Everyone is more interested in our choice of lawyers than the battle we’re fighting. I find it very amusing.”

American Indian group plans to monitor polls

A national American Indian group plans to put poll watchers at voting precincts with a high percentage of American Indian voters on Nov. 2.

The Native Vote 2004: Election Protection Project is an initiative to ensure that every Indian who is eligible to vote goes to the polls and that each vote is counted fairly, said national coordinator Heather Dawn Thompson, also the president of the Native American Bar Association.

States in the project are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.

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