PITTSBURGH - Almost bumping into each other on the campaign trail, President Bush and Democrat John Kerry mined the political battleground of western Pennsylvania for votes yesterday as a new poll showed that the Massachusetts senator received a boost from his party's convention in Boston.
The poll, released by Newsweek magazine, showed Kerry nudging ahead of Bush 49 percent to 42 percent, in a hypothetical three-way race with independent Ralph Nader. Three weeks ago, Kerry had 47 percent to Bush's 44 percent in the same poll. The poll's margin of error is 3 percentage points. In other more recent surveys, Bush was in a dead heat heading into the Democratic convention or even slightly ahead of Kerry.
The Newsweek poll was published with a story saying that Kerry had received the smallest bounce of any candidate after his convention in the poll's history. But, the poll was taken on Thursday and Friday, meaning that only some of the 1,010 participants were surveyed after Kerry's nationally televised acceptance speech. Polls from other news organizations are to be released in coming days, likely producing a fuller picture of the race.
Still, both campaigns put their best spin on the fresh numbers, with the president's team saying Kerry's post-convention bounce was far smaller than either side expected and the Democrat's campaign saying Kerry has unified his party and is riding high with a growing lead.
Bush campaign officials have been trying for days to heighten expectations, saying they were bracing for Kerry to have an 8- to 10-point lead or more as he basked in the aftermath of his Boston gathering. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, had said he anticipated as much as a 12 percentage point lead in the polls, a prediction noted repeatedly by Republicans.
"They must be disappointed," Bush campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said of his counterparts after he reviewed the Newsweek poll. "Clearly they didn't get the bounce they were looking for."
A Kerry spokesman, Phil Singer, said his campaign was awaiting other polls to be released in coming days. Kerry, Singer argued, had been able to excite his party with his message earlier than past challengers and well before his convention, meaning that "the bounce has been occurring over the past few months" and that the new poll is another indication of a surging campaign.
Singer complained that the other side "is trying to play an expectations game" to "make us appear weak."
The candidates continued their respective road shows yesterday, taking their stump speeches and entourages by bus across three states. Bush traveled east through Ohio and West Virginia and into Pittsburgh, Kerry went west through Pennsylvania bound for West Virginia, and the two bus motorcades were at one point facing each other - about 30 miles apart - on Interstate 70.
The candidates seemed much farther apart as they offered competing visions for how to deal with the economy, how to ease the financial strain on workers and how to deal with terrorist threats.
Here in an industrial region where the job base took a hit during the recession, never fully recovering, Bush told voters that keeping taxes on businesses and individuals low was critical to boost the economy and create jobs. In a sign that the struggling economy was turning for the better, Bush pointed out that 1.5 million jobs had been created in the country in the last year - 68,000 in this manufacturing state in the past four months.
He added that lawsuits against doctors were forcing the price of health care to remain high for struggling workers, before taking a swing at his opponent's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who is a trial attorney.
"I don't think you can be pro-doc, pro-patient and pro-trial lawyer," Bush told an electrified crowd of thousands in a convention center last night in downtown Pittsburgh. "You have to make a choice. My opponent made his choice, and he put him on the ticket."
Turning to foreign policy, the president painted Kerry as a man without the decisiveness to lead at a time when the country faces grave threats and said the senator still has not offered a clear vision for how he would handle the volatile situation in Iraq.
"If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy," Bush said. "This will not happen on my watch."
Kerry brushed up his speech from the day before to deliver direct responses to the president. He said that he does have a clear vision for how to handle Iraq, and beyond that, would be better able than Bush to deal with terrorist threats because he would have better relations with other leaders.