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WORLD


ARKIB : 01/11/2004

Deadlocked Bush and Kerry hit swing states hard

WASHINGTON Oct 31 - US President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry begin a frantic sprint to the presidential campaign's finish on Sunday as polls showed the race for the White House remained too close to call.

The candidates will spend the remaining two days of the campaign visiting states that could decide Tuesday's election, looking to persuade undecided voters, inspire supporters and piece together the 270 electoral votes needed for a win. Both men will visit the battleground states of Ohio and Florida on Sunday. Kerry will also campaign in New Hampshire.

A new element was added to the unpredictable race when al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden released a new videotape on Friday threatening more attacks.

Neither rival directly mentioned the tape on the campaign trail on Saturday, but Bush repeated his vow to capture bin Laden ``dead or alive.'' Each said he would do the best job of fighting al Qaeda and questioned his opponent's approach to hunting him down.

``The outcome of this election will set the direction of the war against terror,'' Bush told supporters in Grand Rapids, Michigan, repeating his frequent charge that his Democratic challenger is too weak to lead. ``Sen. Kerry has chosen the path of weakness and inaction.''

Kerry said he and the president were united in their resolve to hunt down bin Laden, but he said in Des Moines, Iowa, that he would wage ``a smarter, more effective, tougher, more strategic war on terror.''

He also voiced his long-standing criticism that Bush made a mistake by not sending US troops after the al Qaeda leader in 2001 in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan.

``As I have said for two years now, when Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, it was wrong to outsource the job of capturing them to Afghan warlords,'' Kerry told a rally in Appleton, Wisconsin.

A Reuters/Zogby poll released on Sunday showed Bush and Kerry deadlocked at 48 percent each. The three-day national tracking poll included one day of polling taken after the airing of the bin Laden videotape. Kerry had led Bush by a statistically insignificant one point, 47-46 percent, a day earlier.

A Newsweek poll released on Saturday showed the Republican president expanding his lead over the Democratic Massachusetts senator to six points.

Polls also showed many Americans expect the race will not be decided on Tuesday, but will end in the courts, as it did in 2000, when Bush received fewer popular votes than Democrat Al Gore, but won the presidency when the US Supreme Court stopped a recount in Florida, giving the Republican the edge in electoral votes.

A Time magazine poll showed that 48 percent of Americans believe that an illegitimate winner may prevail.

The impact of the bin Laden tape was unclear. Campaign aides have suggested it could either remind voters of Bush's leadership in the war on terror or of his failure to make good on his vow to capture the man blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.

With polls showing Americans trust Bush to lead the fight against terror by a wide margin - the Newsweek poll gave him the edge on the issue by 56-37 percent - the president renewed his emphasis on the issue.

He blasted what he called Kerry's ``propensity to change positions'' on national security issues and ``cut-and-run'' approach to the pursuing terrorists. ``I will never relent in defending our country, whatever it takes,'' Bush said.

Kerry criticized Bush for switching the military's focus from pursuing bin Laden to invading Iraq and said he would do a better job in the fight against terror.

``I will use all of the power that we have and all of the leadership skill that I can summon, and that is, believe me, more than what we have today,'' he said in Des Moines.

Vice President Dick Cheney, campaigning in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, directly addressed the bin Laden tape and said it was ``no ordinary time for America.''

``We've all seen in the last day or two the tape of Osama bin Laden now. It's a reminder that we are engaged in a global war on terror,'' he said.

Kerry spoke of unity against the threat.

``As Americans we are absolutely united, all of us - there are no Democrats, there are no Republicans - as Americans, we are united in our determination to destroy, capture, kill Osama bin Laden and all of the terrorists,'' he said.

Polls show the race is very close in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, but Kerry was trying to hold on to several other states that Democrat Al Gore won in 2000 and polls show are now too close to call, including Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. - Reuters

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