Saturday, October 23, 2004

Two new polls show Kerry leading in NJ once again

Kerry widens lead over Bush in N.J., two polls say

Inquirer Staff Writer

Sen. John Kerry appears to have stabilized his campaign in New Jersey, a state he was expected to win going away but that abruptly turned into a question mark after the Republican convention.

Two polls issued this week show the Democratic challenger widening his lead over President Bush, whose hopes of a New Jersey upset prompted his surprise visit to the state on Monday.

Kerry is leading Bush, 46 percent to 40 percent, among likely New Jersey voters, according to Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll, released yesterday. The same poll showed them virtually tied last week.

Kerry's lead expanded to 49 percent to 41 percent when voters leaning toward one of the candidates were included. Nine percent of those questioned were undecided, while 1 percent favored independent candidate Ralph Nader.

Another survey released earlier this week gave Kerry an even larger lead - 51 percent to 38 percent. That poll, by Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers University, had shown Kerry with just a 6 percentage point lead two weeks ago.

A Quinnipiac University poll showed Kerry with a slimmer lead, 49 percent to 45 percent.

In the Fairleigh Dickinson poll, Kerry showed surprising strength among men, a voting bloc that Republican candidates have carried decisively in recent elections. He had also won back a significant percentage of women voters who had been showing signs of supporting Bush after voting overwhelmingly for Democrats.

The poll suggests that "Bush's brand of conservative Republican politics is not selling very well in New Jersey," said Richard Thigpen, a Democratic strategist and analyst for the PublicMind survey.

"The more Bush does what it takes politically to pursue his Southern- and Western-oriented electoral strategy, the harder it gets for him to carry New Jersey," Thigpen said.

But Stephen Salmore, a Republican consultant and an analyst for the poll, said the state "remains in play."

The Fairleigh Dickinson telephone poll of 503 likely voters, conducted Oct. 13-21, has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Kerry's apparent advantage going into the campaign's final 10 days could ease the concern of some Democrats that their candidate's inattention to New Jersey could backfire on Election Day.

Given New Jersey's solid support of Democratic presidential candidates since 1992, the Kerry campaign made the strategic decision not to campaign there in favor of spending its time and money in certain battleground states, such as Pennsylvania.

The Kerry campaign held firm on its plan even in the face of consistent polling in the weeks after the Republican convention showing Bush running nearly even in New Jersey, chiefly due to terrorism fears in a state that lost nearly 700 residents in the World Trade Center attacks.

And Kerry stayed away even when Vice President Cheney and then Bush, sensing a chance to pick off a Democratic state, both made previously unplanned campaign trips to New Jersey in the last two weeks.

Kerry, in a national radio interview, chided Bush after his trip to Marlton in South Jersey. He said the President was wasting his time campaigning in a state that was certain to vote Democratic in November.

No Republican presidential candidate has carried New Jersey since Bush's father in 1988. Four years ago, the current President Bush lost to then-Vice President Al Gore by 16 percentage points.

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