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Surprise Swing States

By David Paul Kuhn, chief political writer

Four states once thought firmly in either the Bush or Kerry corner have emerged as new battlegrounds in the closing days of the election.

President Bush now looks to have a chance in New Jersey and Hawaii, while Sen. John Kerry is in the running in North Carolina and Arkansas.

Below is a breakdown of why the four once largely uncontested states are now thought to be in play.

New Jersey
15 Electoral Votes

These are 15 electoral votes John Kerry cannot afford to lose. Democratic surrogates are advertising hard, no small deal in the second most expensive market in the nation. (To air advertising in the Garden State you have to purchase ads on New York and Philadelphia stations.)

"Terrorism has made it closer than it would be ordinary be," said political scientist Ross Baker of Rutgers University.

New Jersey wasn't always Democratic turf. But since the suburban expansion of the 1980s and the economic prosperity of the 1990s that seeped into northern New Jersey from Manhattan, the state has been a Democratic stronghold.

Four years ago, Democratic nominee Al Gore trounced George W. Bush in the state, 56-40 percent. In 1996, Bill Clinton won New Jersey by a 54-36 percent margin over Republican Bob Dole.

Democrats claim not to be concerned, but polls show the Bush-Kerry race drawing closer and closer.

A Republican Strategic Vision poll this week gave Kerry a 1-point lead over the president, 45-44 percent – a statistical tie. A Quinnipiac University Poll showed the two men even at 46 percent apiece.

The Quinnipiac poll found that 30 percent of the electorate named terrorism as the most important issue in the election. And by 53-37 percent, those polled said they trusted Mr. Bush more on terrorism than Kerry.

"Terrorism hit New Jersey harder than most other states," Baker said. "We were granted the dubious position of having a front row seat to this terrible event."

He adds that while "the terrorism issue has made it closer, I think this is a state where turnout really does matter and Democrats are more organized."

New Jersey registered 463,000 new voters this year alone, pushing the state's total number of voters to more than 5 million. "This is a ground game state and I think Kerry is going to win, although more narrowly than one would expect," Baker said.

"If they believed there was any chance they could lose this state, Kerry would come back in a heartbeat."

North Carolina
15 Electoral Votes

The wildest of wild cards is North Carolina. One Democratic source tells that the home state of Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards is much tighter than the polls show.

The best tracker of North Carolina, the Mason-Dixon poll, gives Mr. Bush a 10-point lead in its recent polls.

But Edwards is still heading to North Carolina to campaign on Friday. Democrats believe they have a chance.

6 Electoral Votes

Former President Bill Clinton has urged Kerry not to ignore Mr. Clinton's home state. Two polls last week supported the former president's view, although a University of Arkansas poll this week argued otherwise.

With Democrats holding both U.S. Senate seats and three out of four Congressional seats, Kerry does have the grassroots support to win in Arkansas.

The Kerry campaign purchased advertising early on but then pulled it, as Mr. Bush looked likely to hold onto the state he won four years ago.

Mr. Clinton won his state in 1996 by nearly a 20-point margin; Mr. Bush took Arkansas by about 5 points in 2000.

Mr. Clinton is returning home Sunday night to hold a massive rally for Kerry in Arkansas, a switch from four years ago, when Al Gore did not ask for him to campaign there.

A University of Arkansas poll this week pits Mr. Bush with 47 percent support, compared to Kerry's mark of 40 percent. The week before, the Republican Opinion Research poll pits the contest a tie. Zogby International polls Mr. Bush also in a statistical dead heat, 46 percent to 45 percent.

Republicans point out that Democrats have not purchased advertising here of late. Democrats concede that is a valid indicator of their Arkansas ambitions. But a Kerry pollster quipped that they still hope to come in late and "pick their pocket."

4 Electoral Votes

In the last two presidential elections Hawaii voted Democratic by 20-point margins. Both its senators and both its Congressional representatives are Democrats. Even when the country went heavily Republican in the presidential elections of 1980 and 1988, Hawaii supported a Democrat.

Yet two polls this month have belied historical trends. SMS Research and Ward Research both place the state in a statistical dead heat.

The Democratic National Committee is spending money on television ads to insure they hold the state. But Hawaii has a new Republican governor. The GOP has heeded the polls. The Bush-Cheney campaign believes it can break trends and win the state.

Testifying to this newfound optimism, it was announced Friday morning that Vice President Dick Cheney will hold a late night rally in Honolulu Sunday. A seven hour flight, three hours on the ground, Republicans want these four electoral votes.

But Democrats are fighting back. Gore will campaign in Hawaii Friday night while Kerry's daughter Alex is also expected to stump, and maybe get a little sun to boot.

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