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Inside Politics

Small states could swing Electoral College

CNN analysis: Bush ahead in very tight race

By John Mercurio and Molly Levinson
CNN Political Unit

The race between Sen. John Kerry and President Bush could be decided by a state with few electoral votes.
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George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush maintains a thin lead over John Kerry in the battle for electoral votes in a race so tight that, despite a national focus on three larger swing states, could be decided by states with less pull in the Electoral College, like Iowa, Wisconsin or New Mexico, a new CNN analysis indicates.

If the election were held today, Bush would win 277 electoral votes to Kerry's 261, according to a new CNN survey based on state polling, as well as interviews with campaign aides and independent analysts. The map is unchanged from last week. A candidate wins the election with 270 electoral votes, regardless of the popular vote.

Each week, CNN's political unit prepares a comprehensive analysis of the most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup polling and public polling, combined with a look at turnout trends, interviews with strategists from both campaigns and parties, independent pollsters, and the latest campaign and party spending on advertising in the states.

Based on this analysis, CNN allocates states to each candidate to determine the breakdown of the Electoral College vote if the election were held today. The map is not a prediction of the Election Day outcome.

The national race also remains virtually unchanged this week. Bush, who led Kerry by an average of 2 points in CNN's poll of national polls conducted last week, appears to lead by 3 points this week, well within the margin of errors of the polls that make up the average.

Just over a week before November 2, the race remains so tight that if Kerry were to overtake Bush in a state with only 10 electoral votes -- Wisconsin, for example -- he would lead in the Electoral College.

The electoral map, divided into "blue" Democratic states and "red" Republican states, offers a stark image of a nation divided. Bush is apparently ahead in 31 states, including the entire southern rim of the country except California, as well as a swath of states in the Rocky Mountains and Plains. Kerry appears ahead in the District of Columbia and the remaining 19 states, including all of New England, the upper Midwest and the West Coast.

But the nation, while divided, is no more split than the states themselves. Bush and Kerry are polling too close to call in 11 states -- Florida, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, New Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Wisconsin and Maine -- which together hold 125 electoral votes.

For weeks, political analysts have said the candidate who carried two of the three biggest battleground states (Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania) would win the Electoral College. Although Kerry apparently leads in Ohio and Pennsylvania, he trails Bush in the overall electoral count because he is seemingly behind in Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico, key blue states that Al Gore won four years ago. Kerry leads Bush only in the traditionally red state of New Hampshire.

Although Republicans concede that Bush's edge is slight at this point, aides say they see a number of scenarios that could lead to victory on Election Day.

"I'd much rather be President Bush than John Kerry," said Sara Taylor, a Bush campaign strategist, who strongly disputed CNN's decision to place Ohio in Kerry's column. "Kerry not only has to win every single competitive state Al Gore won, but he also has to pick off Ohio or Florida, both of which lean toward the president. There are a number of scenarios where you can arrive at a Bush victory. There's really only one scenario where John Kerry can win."

Democrats disagree, saying their internal polls show them running ahead in Florida, Wisconsin and New Mexico, where CNN believes Bush is ahead.

"There are polls out there that have us even. There are polls that have us ahead, and there are polls that have us behind," said Mark Mellman, the Kerry campaign's chief pollster. "And the two things that all the polls agree on are that John Kerry is ahead in battleground states -- and that people who have yet to make a decision are very negative about the president and very negative about the current direction of the country."

The campaigns plan to spend the final days of the race focusing on turning out voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all of which are drawing high-profile surrogate speakers.

Bush is to campaign in Florida on Saturday, while Gore and Sen. Hillary Clinton are scheduled to hold get-out-the-vote rallies and other campaign-style events there throughout the weekend.

Former President Bill Clinton, who had heart surgery September 6, will be the headline speaker at a lunchtime rally Monday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Kerry. The former president will campaign later next week in Florida and New Mexico.

In Ohio, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to make a rare campaign appearance for Bush next weekend. Aides say Bush will spend time in all 12 of the state's media markets between now and the election, and high-profile surrogates will be in the Buckeye State almost every day.

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