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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Kerry Trailing in 2 New Polls

His camp dismisses the news, which contradicts earlier surveys hinting at a much tighter race.

September 18, 2004|Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writer

ALBUQUERQUE — In a volatile week for the presidential race, two polls released Friday showed President Bush with a clear lead over Sen. John F. Kerry nationally, contradicting two surveys earlier in the week that indicated the contest had tightened considerably.

With 46 days left before the election, a Gallup poll showed Kerry trailing Bush by 13 percentage points among likely voters.

And a New York Times-CBS News poll posted on the newspaper's website late Friday gave Bush an eight-point lead among registered voters. Both polls had margins of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Kerry campaign dismissed the news, calling the Gallup poll an "outlier" and insisting that Bush had lost the momentum gained after a successful Republican National Convention.

"As we sit here today, we are looking at a race that's very tight both nationally and in the battleground states," senior Kerry advisor Joe Lockhart said in a conference call with reporters. "Fundamentally and structurally, it has not changed for some time.... We are very pleased. The trends are going in our direction."

The GOP was low-key about the new polls. Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot said he expected a tighter race in coming weeks. But he also expressed confidence.

The polls were released as Kerry began the campaign day here asserting that the Bush administration was planning to call even more members of the National Guard and the military reserves to active duty.

The Democratic presidential nominee reiterated his claim that Bush had not told the American people the truth about the war in Iraq.

The president "won't tell us what congressional leaders are now saying: that this administration is planning yet another substantial call-up of reservists and Guard units immediately after the election," Kerry said during a stop here. "Hide it from people through the election, then make the move."

The Massachusetts senator blasted Bush on Friday for his lack of candor and the choices made during his term.

He made his remarks a day after delivering a hard-hitting critique of the war in Iraq at the National Guard's annual convention in Las Vegas. Advisors said he would keep the war front and center through election day, continuing the more aggressive posture he had adopted.

"You see a very aggressive effort to engage the president on the war in Iraq," Lockhart said during the conference call. "The message is that we have to be strong and smart. That's a theme you'll see over and over again, particularly emphasized next week."

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan called the Kerry statements about the National Guard "just another baseless attack." McClellan said Kerry was "struggling to explain his incoherent positions on Iraq.... "

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said that neither the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, on which he serves, nor the Armed Services Committee had been notified of a troop call-up.

"Despite what Sen. Kerry may have said on the campaign trail, to my knowledge there are no plans for substantial call-ups of the Guard and Reserve," Domenici said in a statement.

At the New Mexico town hall meeting Friday morning, Kerry enumerated the choices Bush had made on domestic and foreign policy matters that, he contended, had harmed the nation, including allowing Halliburton Co. to win contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq without competitive bidding.

Of all of those choices, Kerry said, "The most catastrophic single choice he has made is the mess that he has created in Iraq.

"When he had the chance to lower the cost of drugs for you, he chose no. He chose the drug companies," Kerry said, apparently referring to a new Medicare prescription drug benefit. One provision in the legislation, requested by pharmaceutical companies, prohibits the government from negotiating prices.

"I believe we need a president of the United States who's going to stand up and fight for and choose the middle class in America and fight for the average worker in this country."

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Times staff writer Ed Chen contributed to this report.

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