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Analysts: 'Battleground States' Hold Key to Winning 2004 Presidential Election - 2004-10-12

In the final weeks before Election Day, President George Bush, the Republican Party candidate and Senator John Kerry, a Democrat, are campaigning for votes in a relatively small handful of states that experts believe will swing the presidential election one way or the other on November 2. National correspondent Jim Malone has more on this small group of so-called swing states or battleground states and why they are so important to both candidates.

Topping the list of battleground states this year is Ohio, home to eight former U.S. presidents and a prime target for both the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

Polls in Ohio show a close race between the president and Senator Kerry for Ohio's 20 electoral votes.

Under the U.S. Constitution, candidates win the presidency by accruing electoral votes based on returns from each state. Electoral votes for each state are based on population. It takes 270 out of 538 electoral votes to win the White House.

Both candidates have made numerous trips to Ohio in search of support.

Betty Lessner owns a pub in Columbus. Mark her down as a Kerry supporter.

"The war in Iraq was a huge mistake," she said. "We were lied to. I think people are outraged by it. But right here in Ohio the economic stuff is what we feel the most right now."

No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio and President Bush is counting on support from voters like Eva Artrip. She owns a clothing store in Danville.

"I think we all have to take a stand," she added. "You cannot be middle of the road. Mr. Bush, I think he does a good job. I think he has gotten a lot of flak and a lot of the situations this country is in are not Mr. Bush's fault."

Ohio is one of 10 to 15 so called swing states this year that are targets for both the Bush and Kerry campaigns, because they could tip either way on Election Day.

Larry Sabato is a political expert at the University of Virginia.

"Forty of the 50 states are already decided. We can go right down today and tell you 40 of the 50 states. This election is all about 10 states and less than 10 percent of the population," he noted.

President Bush is expected to maintain the Republican Party dominance in the South, the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain West.

Senator Kerry is expected to draw traditionally strong Democratic Party support from the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic region and the West Coast.

That leaves a handful of states up for grabs that are now getting the most attention from both candidates.

This is Georgetown University Political Science Professor Stephen Wayne. "And those states basically run from Pennsylvania, to Ohio, to Michigan, to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri, in the central part of the United States, Florida, some of the small southwestern states, and Oregon and Washington on the Pacific coast," said Georgetown University Political Science Professor Stephen Wayne. "And that is where all the focus is in the campaign."

With the focus on that small group of states, much of the country will be relegated to the sidelines in the final weeks of the campaign as the candidates pound the same turf over and over.

Candice Nelson is an expert on political campaigns at the American University in Washington.

"Candidates tend to focus their campaigns on states that are so-called up for grabs, what we call the battleground states," she noted. "A state such as Utah, for example, which has voted Republican in many, many elections, will not see a candidate. California, which has voted Democratic in the most recent elections, won't see much action from the two campaigns. The candidates are focusing on 17, 18, 19 states, which seem to be up for grabs."

Voters in those key states are being subjected to the full range of campaign resources, everything from frequent candidate visits to a barrage of television advertisements.

Dennis Johnson monitors the campaign ad war at George Washington University in Washington.

"If you live in a battleground state, like Ohio or Pennsylvania, you are going to see television ads all the time," he added. "You will be sick of watching televisions ads. But if you live in a place like Los Angeles, California, or New York City, you are not going to see virtually any ads, because the races there are pretty well settled."

Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania are considered the top three battleground states. Some experts predict that whichever candidate wins two of those three states will be elected on November 2.