- President George W Bush campaigned up and down a small
rural stretch of the heartland yesterday, desperately seeking to shore
up his position in a once safe region where Republicans are registering
the first prickles of concern about his record - and his chances.
- With just a week to go before voting, Mr Bush focused
his fire on Wisconsin and Iowa, two mid-western states that have become
pivotal to his chances. He lost both narrowly to Al Gore in 2000 but now
badly needs to win them as an insurance policy, given the state of play
in Ohio and Florida, two of the three key swing states, where he is in
a dead heat with his rival.
- Sitting on the banks of the Mississippi, the focus of
a blitz of campaigning by the two presidential candidates, two Republican
businessmen in their mid-30s aired the anxieties that go to the heart of
jitters among Bush supporters.
- "People are worried about Iraq," said Eric
Dragne, in a display of candour remarkable in a partisan climate that tends
to allow for no self-doubt on either side. "Many people here know
people who have lost their lives."
- "People also talk about the financial side of Mr
Bush's record," said his companion, Steward Sandstrom. "And maybe
that we should be committing money elsewhere."
- For Mr Bush's campaign, just a week before polling such
conversations are troubling - and a guide to why he was in Dubuque, Iowa,
the businessmen's home town, for a rally last night pumping out his message
to shore up his support.
- Mr Dragne and Mr Sandstrom are still planning to vote
for Mr Bush but not, it seems, with great gusto. Their confidence in the
President has been dented by the continuing turmoil in Iraq and an un-Republican
splurge in spending.
- In public, Mr Bush's aides exude confidence that his
appeal to core American values will ultimately lead him to triumph over
his challenger, Senator John Kerry. But, as has been the case throughout
the last fortnight since Mr Kerry used the presidential debates to bounce
back into the race, the polls allow neither candidate to feel remotely
- Opinion polls have shown Mr Bush comfortably ahead in
Wisconsin over the last month. Karl Rove, Mr Bush's senior political adviser,
is believed to have recognised early in the campaign that the Democrats
were vulnerable there - and locals say Mr Kerry initially fought a weak
- But while Mr Bush is three points ahead in Iowa, in the
last week the race in Wisconsin has tightened.
- Yesterday, in a whistle-stop appearance in the traditionally
Democratic west of the state, Mr Bush made a direct pitch for Democrats
to swap sides. Speaking in Onalaska, he said his opponent had chosen a
path of "weakness and inaction", putting himself "in opposition
not just to me, but to the great tradition of the Democratic Party. If
you believe that America should lead with strength and confidence and resolveÖ
then I am asking for your vote."
- Mr Kerry began his day in the other traditional swing
part of the state, the Fox River valley, in the north-east. At a rally
in the town of Green Bay, he said a torrent of bad news from Iraq showed
Mr Bush's administration was hiding the reality of the situation.
- A poll of polls, which averages the many different poll
findings, yesterday gave Mr Bush a three-percentage-point lead over Mr
Kerry. And he was fractionally up in Florida. But the figures were within
the margin of error.
- * John Kerry accused President Bush of concealing bad
news as it emerged that, post-election, the Pentagon intended seeking an
additional $70 billion (£38 billion), in emergency funding for the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would take total war costs to nearly $225
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