A slight uptick for Kerry

As the campaign enters its final evening, national polls show that Sen. Kerry is chipping away at President Bush's lead. In recent weeks, Bush has maintained an average lead of 2.5 to 3 percentage points in the national polls, according to the closely watched Web site RealClearPolitics. As of today, that lead has been cut to 1.3 percentage points in a three-way race with Nader and 1.5 points in a head-to-head race.

Many people argue that the national polls don't matter, because the election is really about winning enough states to ensure victory in the electoral college. But John McIntyre, who runs the Web site with Tom Bevan, thinks that the national polls are important to watch. A lead in the national polls will translate over time to an edge in state polls, he says.

The question now is what the shift at the national level means. "I think the question is whether this small movement in the national polls is a harbinger of undecided voters really breaking for Kerry, so that he really outperforms his poll numbers, or whether it's just a sign of the race tightening and the pollsters tweaking their models," McIntyre says. It's certainly not a good sign for an incumbent to be essentially tied with a challenger so very late in the game.

For the moment, polls in 10 highly contested battleground states seem to favor Bush. Newer polls will be released later tonight. Right now, RealClearPolitics's average of state polls shows Bush ahead slightly in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada. The averages show Kerry ahead in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan and New Hampshire. But there are so many contradictory state polls that it would be reckless to read too much into them. In Wisconsin, for example, Gallup has Bush up by 8 and Zogby has Kerry up by 7.

So much depends upon turnout. Four years ago, 105 million people went to the polls. The number will be much higher this year. Democrats expect a truly history turnout of 120 million to 125 million, while Republicans expect 115 to 117, according to Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. A larger turnout is almost certain to favor Kerry.

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