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The Presidential Race in the Battleground States

October 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: We get more on the presidential race in Florida and other battleground states from Adam Nagourney of the New York Times. He joins us tonight from Miami. Welcome, Adam. Given all the political complication that Ray Suarez just told us about are going on now in Florida, give us a reality check. What does it feel like on the ground?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Incredibly intense. I’ve seen Bush, I’ve seen Kerry twice, I’ve seen Bill Clinton. It’s just very, very intense here. People are voting already, as Ray said, there’s early voting going on. Lots of people are walking around with buttons saying I already voted, just a real intensity here that I haven’t seen nay long, long time.

GWEN IFILL: As President Bush and John Kerry keep trying to come through Florida to campaign in these last days, who are they targeting?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: From my experience so far, President Bush has mainly been targeting base voters. Kerry also so far has been targeting base voters. The calculation in both campaigns is at this point if there were any swing voters, in other words, undecided voters they’re gone. So it’s just a matter of getting out the people who they expect to support them in different parts of the state, different ethnic groups, a very targeted strategy right now. Both men are coming back at least for one or two days this weekend. I really think that in the end this is, you know, fittingly enough after what happened in 2000, this is where the action is.

GWEN IFILL: So we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of early voters at this point, right?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: The number I heard today from one of the campaigns was 150,000. So that’s a lot of people — and there’s been long lines, and I was in an event yesterday with Al Gore North of Miami and there were just people waiting and waiting and waiting just to cast early ballots, early votes.

GWEN IFILL: One week to go, Adam, hard to imagine that. If you had to give us a cheat sheet for the states to watch in the next week what would you say they were?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Obviously Florida first. Ohio, Ohio remains very, very tight, republican last time. Everyone I talked to thinks that Kerry has a real god shot there this time. Pennsylvania is a state this from the beginning of this election President Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. thought they could take back from the Democrats. The president has paid more campaign visits there than any other state in the country; I’ve watched that closely, though right now Kerry is doing well there.

GWEN IFILL: Can I stop you on Pennsylvania?


GWEN IFILL: Yesterday, of course, President Clinton came out of his health imposed semi retirement and got huge head lines all across the state; it not only said things like — there was a double headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer said that weapons missing in Iraq…Kerry and Clinton wowed them in Philly — you couldn’t pay for good news like that.

ADAM NAGOURNEY: I agree. Clinton got a huge turnout there so right now things are not looking great for Bush in Pennsylvania. He is competing in three Midwest states that are normally Democratic, or have been Democratic: Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.

GWEN IFILL: Who is competing, the Senator or the President?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Excuse me, the president is. Is trying to take those states back from Sen. Kerry. And is very possible he’ll take one or two of them back. Part of what’s going on is he’s trying to compensate there in case Kerry wins Ohio and Florida, which is not crazy. So you want to watch those three states. The last place to keep an eye on is, in is more what the Kerry people are saying, is Nevada. I think Kerry – I’m losing track of my days — is there today or tomorrow. Republican state, because of the dispute there over Yucca Mountain and the nuclear waste repository there, the Democrats feel they have a good shot of taking that state back from the president this time.

GWEN IFILL: If we had a map and looked at the way these candidates are traveling in this last week, today would be an interesting example. President Bush spent the day in Wisconsin and Iowa. What is it about Wisconsin, what is it about Iowa?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Again, two Democratic states where they think they have a chance of taking it back from Sen. Kerry. Part of it is that Sen. Kerry maybe doesn’t have the sort of cultural fit in those states than he does in other states. Also in Iowa in particular poll shows that there’s not the sense that the country is going in the wrong direction that you find in states like this one, so they think he has a chance there. Again, you know, if the White House is thinking that it’s in trouble in Ohio and in Florida, two states that the president won last time and I think are bedrock of a strategy this time, it makes sense to try to go after some Democratic states.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Kerry’s schedule today, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Mexico and Iowa, all one day. What is that all about?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: You’ve been on campaign trips, it’s a brutal day.

GWEN IFILL: Sounds terrible. So what does it mean tactically?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: Tactically, it means he’s protecting himself in two Democratic states where he knows the president has a chance. But also he’s going after two Republican states. I mean, one thing that the White House keeps saying is that, well, you know, the president is, they’re fighting more on Democratic states, more on Gore states than they are on Bush states. More revealingly though, I do think the fact that the president has to worry about Ohio and has to worry about Florida, I think he pretty much has lost New Hampshire. That’s just not a great position to be in now.

GWEN IFILL: Now here’s another one no one has been talking about, with Bill Clinton back all of a sudden we’re hearing about Arkansas again.

ADAM NAGOURNEY: You know, the Democrats have pretty much written off that state for much of the year. Bill Clinton from what I’m told has told people he thinks it’s winnable, he’s going back in there. You know, there was a poll over the weekend, I forget which paper it was in that showed it tied. You know, it’s a very tight race everywhere. And you can come back into play, and Arkansas is one state that looks like it’s potentially coming back into play.

We should also mention, I should have brought my handy map along, Michigan. Michigan is a state that is sort of the flip side of Arkansas, a state that Sen. Kerry had thought he had put away, a Democratic state, and over the past five days polls show that the president was in front in some cases. Now, that could be one of those flukes because Kerry wasn’t there very much, but it also going to be because he’s vulnerable on stuff like cafe standards, environmental standards, in support of Kyoto. So that’s something he’ll just keep one eye on.

GWEN IFILL: You know, in the final week of the campaign we’re supposed to see this sudden rush of positive advertising, we haven’t seen it on the stump. When does it begin? Or does it ever?

ADAM NAGOURNEY: You’re totally right. Normally in a campaign what you want to do is end with positive stuff, this is not been one of the most positive campaigns I think that we’ve seen. My guess is you’ll see a pretense of positivity in the last two days of the campaign. The president has prepared an advertisement in which, you know, I’m told, he looks straight on camera says we’ve been through all this together, vote for me. And Kerry has positive ads ready to go. But at least rhetorically on the stump it’s too tight, it’s too intense, I don’t think you’ll see these guys certainly talking, get positive until the very, very end, if then.

GWEN IFILL: I love that term, pretense of positivity. We’re going to ascribe that to you, Adam. Thank you very much.