For incumbent presidents, it's never too early to start campaigning, one recent study found. Battleground states comprised half of the 10 states President Bush visited most frequently from 2001 to 2003, according to a study by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. Although Virginia and California topped the list of Bush visits, the swing states Pennsylvania and Florida were third and fourth, with 27 and 24 stops each. (The study defined swing states as those in which the margin of victory between Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 election was less than 6%.)
"If you're rolling out a new initiative, you don't want to go to Utah or Idaho where you've already got a strong base of support; you want to go where you can reach out to the independents," said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, the study's author and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.
With the electorate sharply and all but evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, the presidential race will most likely turn on a handful of swing states, according to political strategists and poll data. Other borderline states in the top 10 most visited by Bush were Missouri (6), Michigan (8) and Ohio (9), which, with 20 electoral votes, many political observers think will prove a critical test for Bush and presumed Democratic nominee John F. Kerry.
A White House spokeswoman played down the potential strategy of presidential visits. "The president believes it's important to get outside Washington and talk about the big challenges that we face and that we're working to meet every day," she said. "It's an opportunity to visit with the people from across the country."
Bush appeared in 46 states between 2001 and 2003, more than the 40 states President Clinton visited between 1993 and 1995.
Kerry Gets Dolled Up
See John Kerry snowboard! Pilot choppers! Ride motorcycles! Kerry, already cultivating an American Sportsman image, now has his own action figure.
Herobuilders.com, a Danbury, Conn., custom toy company, recently unveiled a "commemorative" John Kerry talking doll. The 1-foot-high, muscle-bound, movable plastic figure has a gleaming white grin. Its face is lightly lined and his molded plastic hair hand-painted an accurate salt and pepper. It wears combat boots, camouflage pants and a white T-shirt bearing a logo that reads "Democrat" atop an image of Kerry's double profile, one face looking left and one right.
"You can pretty much figure out what we're getting at there," said Emil Vicale, president of 2-year-old HeroBuilders.com. The company is not a partisan organization, Vicale said, although the Kerry doll is its second figure lampooning a Democratic candidate -- a "Mean Dean" figure is also for sale.
"We're happy it was made in the United States," Kerry campaign spokeswoman Laura Capps said of the figure. "We note the production of the George W. Bush doll will soon be outsourced overseas."
The figures' bodies are made in China while heads and packaging are made in the United States. They are sold online.
Lest you tire of his silent smile, the Kerry doll can intone a 16-second sound bite of his GOP-bashing remarks, inadvertently picked up by a forgotten microphone at a campaign stop in Chicago on March 10.
"These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen. It's scary," the Kerry likeness says of Republicans.
Secrets Over a Cup of Joe
One patron at a Dupont Circle Starbucks got more than a grande chai tea last weekend. The anonymous customer found papers at his table, scribbled with what were apparently notes for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"Took threat v seriously and then segue to what we have been doing. Rise above [Richard A.] Clarke. Emphasize importance of 9/11 commission and come back to what we have been doing," read a portion of the notes, which included talking points and questions to prepare Rumsfeld for the Sunday talk show circuit.
The unnamed individual who discovered the four misplaced sheets of paper -- which included a hand-drawn map to Rumsfeld's home -- turned the papers in to the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank. The group posted the papers -- and some original commentary -- on its website, AmericanProgress.org.
"There was one scary moment during John Kerry's operation; the hospital transfusion room ran out of blue blood." -- Jay Leno on NBC's "Tonight Show" Wednesday referring to Kerry's shoulder procedure last week.
Compiled from staff, Web and wire reports by Times staff researcher Susannah Rosenblatt.