The Electoral Map's Midwest Focus

That's where the battle between Bush and Kerry will likely be decided, as that's where three of the five toss-up states are

By Richard S. Dunham

This is BusinessWeek Online's fourth look at how the Electoral College map is shaping up in the 2004 Presidential race. In our first review, President George W. Bush had taken a commanding lead in the race after the GOP convention in New York. Polls showed him ahead in 30 states with 284 electoral votes -- 14 more than the 270 necessary to win the White House.

But Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry's strong performance in the Presidential debates gave the Democrat a slight edge in our second electoral map and in our third examination of the state-by-state contest. The debates seemed to have helped Kerry most in the industrial heartland, and that's why he's clinging to a small but growing lead in the Electoral College.

Our fourth map shows that the election will likely be decided in the Midwest, where three states -- Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa -- are too close to call. But it's Kerry who has the momentum coming out of the two-week series of Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates. The challenger's peformances improved his standing in Ohio and Wisconsin, transforming those states from leaning toward Bush to once again being up for grabs. And Kerry solidified his edge in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey -- all of which the Republicans had been hoping to grab from the Democratic column.

BATTLEGROUND EDGE.

  Entering the home stretch, Kerry leads in 18 states and the District of Columbia, which account for 242 electoral votes. In the last week, he has regained the upper hand in Minnesota but lost it in hotly contested Iowa. Bush is now ahead in 27 states with 227 electoral votes, having surrendered a tenuous lead in Wisconsin. Five states are now toss-ups -- Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Mexico -- and their 62 electoral votes will determine the winner. Both candidates remain short of the 270 votes needed for victory.

While Bush lost ground with Midwestern swing voters, he has gained strength in his Southern base. That means two states that had been leaning toward the President -- North Carolina and Tennessee -- are now firmly in his grasp. Bush has strong leads in states with 178 electoral votes, while Kerry is far ahead of Bush in states with 164 votes. The President has an edge in 8 of the 20 original battleground states, compared to 7 for the Massachusetts Democrat and 5 dead even.

The two candidates enter the home stretch tied at 48%, according to the Oct. 14 ABC News tracking poll. Among Republicans, Bush leads, 90% to 10%. Kerry is almost as strong among Democrats -- 85% to 12%. Independents split, 46% to 46%. A small shift could tip this balance. But unless public opinion changes quickly, no more than a dozen states are conceivably still left up for grabs.

Alabama 9
Alaska 3
Arizona 10
Arkansas 6
California 55
Colorado 9
Connecticut 7
Delaware 3
D.C. 3
Florida 27
Georgia 15
Hawaii 4
Idaho 4
Illinois 21
Indiana 11
Iowa 7
Kansas 6
Kentucky 8
Louisiana 9
Maine 4
Maryland 10
Massachusetts 12
Michigan 17
Minnesota 10
Mississippi 6
Missouri 11
Montana 3
Nebraska 5
Nevada 5
New Hampshire 4
New Jersey 15
New Mexico 5
New York 31
North Carolina 15
North Dakota 3
Ohio 20
Oklahoma 7
Oregon 7
Pennsylvania 21
Rhode Island 4
South Carolina 8
South Dakota 3
Tennessee 11
Texas 34
Utah 5
Vermont 3
Virginia 13
Washington 11
West Virginia 5
Wisconsin 10
Wyoming 3

Dunham is BusinessWeek's Washington Outlook editor