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Bush, Kerry Are Tied, And Neither One Has Closed the Deal Yet

President Bush may have gotten a “bump” in support during the GOP convention, but it’s already dissipated. Once again, he’s tied with Democrat John Kerry.[IMGCAP(1)]

That’s the evidence emerging from daily tracks by the Rasmussen poll. And focus groups in 17 battleground states conducted by Democratic consultant Bob Beckel also suggest that Bush failed to decisively convert undecided voters.

Polling 1,000 voters a night, Rasmussen found that Bush went into last week’s convention with a one-point lead, 47 percent to 46 percent, and came out last Saturday with a lead of 4.4 points, 49.1 percent to 44.7 percent.

By this Tuesday night, however, the race had slipped back to 47-47. That’s a more accurate measure of the race than the average of four other polls conducted over the weekend and released this week. Those polls give Bush a six-point lead.

Also suggesting a tie is the fact that the Gallup poll, while showing Bush leading by seven points among likely voters, also found Bush leading by just one among registered voters.

Many experts expect that the prospect of a big turnout this year makes the registered-voter figure the more accurate predictor.

Conducting its polls state by state, Rasmussen reported that Bush leads in electoral votes by 213 to 175, but lacks an edge in enough of the most hotly contested states to reach the 270 threshold for election. An average of state polls by Realclearpolitics.com gives Bush a lead of 269 to 228.

Beckel, who was Walter Mondale’s campaign manager in 1984, conducted his focus groups in partnership with an unnamed Republican during both conventions. The duo found that neither candidate made a final sale.

Of 87 “serious” undecided voters — all of whom voted in the last three elections — only two declared for Bush after the GOP convention. One decided for Kerry and the rest remained undecided.

Beckel is convinced that the undecided pool is larger than the 4 percent or 5 percent usually assumed for this polarized election. To Beckel, “persuadeables” may actually account for up to 15 percent of the electorate.

While acknowledging that he’s a partisan Democrat, Beckel said he thinks that “Bush is in a lot more trouble than people think he is.” The reason: Battleground-state voters are more concerned about the economy, health care and stem cells than about terrorism and Iraq.

“The best thing to come out of Kerry’s convention,” he said, “is that, contrary to reports that he talked only about Vietnam, voters heard him talking about unemployment and health care.

“They don’t understand all the details of what Kerry is for, but they know it’s different from where Bush is, which they think is nowhere.”

Bush did not impress focus-group participants during the first half of his acceptance speech, which covered domestic issues. However, he “won an A-plus” during the second half, dealing with foreign policy.

Asked to grade the total speech, participants gave Bush a “B-plus,” about the same grade Kerry earned for his speech. Seperate groups watched each convention.

“When Bush was discussing domestic policy, people in the groups were quite aware that he’d proposed a lot of this stuff before,” Beckel said. “And a number of them asked, ‘He’s had four years. Why hasn’t he done this sooner?’

“When we said, ‘Bush has been busy fighting a war on terrorism,’ what we got back from a number of people was, ‘Well, if it was that important, why didn’t he raise taxes on rich people?’ Older people remembered that taxes got raised during past wars.”

Beckel said that “the best thing that happened for Bush at his convention” was the speech by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that made “a connection between the Iraq war and terrorism in an understandable way.”

He added that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) received kudos for taking on Kerry. “But they didn’t like [former New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani,” he said. And the speech by Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) “was a disaster. People said Miller’s speech ‘represents the worst in politics.’”

“Giuliani talked about 9/11,” Beckel said, “which is a subject voters simply don’t want to be reminded about. A number of people said, ‘Bush needs to keep us scared to win this election’ and one woman said ‘if you have to live like this, why live? It’s like the bomb-shelter days.’”

Also, he said, voters do not want to hear about Vietnam. “They are convinced that Kerry was a hero and that the Swift Boat veterans are under instructions from the White House. But they don’t care about Vietnam. They want to know, ‘What are you going to do for me tomorrow?’”

Beckel added, “If there was one thing that was striking, it’s how many people know and care about the stem-cell issue. It was the most remarked-upon single thing in (first lady) Laura Bush’s speech. They were offended that someone forced her to say that Bush was the first president to fund stem cell research, even if it’s technically true.

“Sixty of the 87 people were connected somehow to a disease that might be cured with stem cells, either as caregivers or as having the disease, and they knew the difference between the number of lines Bush claimed were available for research, 69, and the actual number, 17.”

The bottom line of both the Rasmussen polling and of Beckel’s focus groups is that Democrats should stop fretting about Bush’s post-convention lead. It doesn’t exist.

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