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CNN analysis: Eight states too close to call

104 electoral votes still up for grabs

From John Mercurio and Molly Levinson
CNN Political Unit

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America Votes 2004

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Bush holds a slim edge over Democrat John Kerry this week in the race for electoral votes, according to a new CNN survey that suggests the winner of Tuesday's election could be decided by eight states that are currently too close to call.

If the election were held today, Bush would likely win at least 227 electoral votes and Kerry 207, according to the CNN survey, which was based on state polling, ad spending and interviews with campaign aides and independent analysts.

Eight states -- New Mexico, Iowa, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Hampshire -- comprise the battleground, still fiercely competitive, where both candidates will spend the remaining five days of the campaign. Combined, the states contain a total of 104 electoral votes.

While the races in those states are virtual ties, Bush appears to have a razor-thin advantage in New Mexico, Iowa, Florida and Wisconsin, which contain a total of 49 electoral votes.

Kerry is narrowly ahead in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Hampshire. Combined, those four states have 55 electoral votes.

If each candidate holds his current advantage in each of those states, Bush would narrowly win the electoral college with 276 votes. A candidate wins the election with 270 electoral votes, regardless of the popular vote.

Kerry could win, however, by holding the four states currently leaning his way and then overtaking Bush in either Florida or Wisconsin.

If he loses both Florida and Wisconsin, Kerry would have to mount the more challenging task of carrying both New Mexico and Iowa.

If Bush wins Florida and either Ohio or Pennsylvania, Kerry would be unlikely to win unless some so-called "red states" not currently considered a top battleground suddenly come into play. That list might include Arkansas or West Virginia.

If Kerry wins Florida and either Ohio or Pennsylvania, he still would have to win one of the red-leaning battleground states like New Mexico, Nevada, Wisconsin or Iowa.

If Kerry wins Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- the battleground trifecta being referred to as "FLOHPA" -- Bush would need to hold all of his red states and win two Democratic-leaning states -- Michigan and either Hawaii or New Hampshire, for example -- in order to win.

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 careful and extensive analysis, CNN allocates states to each candidate to determine the breakdown of the Electoral College vote if the election were held on that day.

The map is not a prediction of the Election Day outcome.

Kerry campaign strategists say widespread predictions of record-breaking voter turnout will greatly benefit the senator over Bush, who they say has focused his campaign mostly on courting a smaller group of committed conservatives.

"The best evidence that this will be a big turnout election is the recent shift in strategy you've seen from Bush," Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry campaign adviser, said in an interview.

"Theirs is a campaign that explicitly excluded Democrats in every way. But it's now very explicitly reaching out to Democrats, and, we think, they will be wholly unsuccessful."

Kerry campaign aides claim they enjoy advantages among new and early voters in four key states -- Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada and Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, for example, 57 percent of the 438,000 newly registered voters are Democrats and 31 percent are Republicans.

In Ohio, nearly one-third of the state's 800,000 new voters are from Cuyahoga County, the Democratic stronghold based in Cleveland.

The Kerry campaign says that in New Hampshire, Democrats have registered 6,000 new voters since September and Republicans have suffered a net loss of 200 registered voters. Some 10,000 state residents have registered as independents.

Bush campaign strategists counter that independent polls of early voting show Bush has the edge. Bush strategist Sara Taylor said the Kerry campaign claims are "complete ridiculousness."

Taylor said it bodes well for the president that the campaign's final days are being fought on traditional Democratic turf.

"If they had sewn up the battlegrounds and we were fighting in Republican-leaning states like Colorado and Arizona, he would have an advantage. But that's not the case," she said.

"Kerry has a lot fewer scenarios under which he can be elected. I'd much rather be us than him."

Bush holds an average 3-point lead in the latest CNN "poll of polls" -- an average of national polling.

In the past week, Bush has maintained on average a 2- to 4-point lead, about the same lead he held going into the first debate September 30.

The six national polls conducted in the past week show support for Bush averaging 49 percent, and support for Kerry averaging 46 percent.

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