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May 20, 2004
Navel-Gazing In New Jersey

Everyone says the same thing about polls in the spring -- they don't mean anything, it's still too early, lots of things could change, yada yada yada. They may not make a good predictor of the eventual outcome, but they certainly indicate how campaigns are performing -- and in heavily-Democratic New Jersey, the Kerry campaign has just received a shock:

Forty-six percent of the respondents support Kerry, 43 percent back Bush, and 5 percent would vote for independent candidate Ralph Nader. The poll, released Thursday, has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Among independent voters polled, Kerry and Bush are about even in the race for New Jersey's 15 electoral votes.

Kerry's favorability is poor in New Jersey, which Al Gore won by 16 percentage points in 2000. Twenty-seven percent approve of the Democrat, 28 percent don't and 33 percent are mixed, according to the poll.

Having Bush within the margin of error so early in the race means that far from being able to count on traditionally-solid New Jersey, the Kerry campaign will need to sink valuable resources convincing Jerseyites of Kerry's likability, in a state where Gore trounced Bush in 2000, and Lautenberg snatched from the Republicans in a quasi-legal, last-minute switcheroo with Bob Torricelli in 2002 -- after 9/11.

National polls actually don't mean much. Just as in 2000, you have to look at the state-by-state polling to understand the real trends. Kerry not only hasn't taken any of Bush's red states away from him, but he's lost the solid grips that Gore had on some blue states in 2000, including New Jersey and California, where Kerry's lead has dropped to a single percentage point. National polls show this as a dead heat overall, but where it counts -- electoral votes -- Bush appears to be gaining strength as his support remains much more committed than Kerry's. And all of this as the Bush campaign weathers bad news by the bushel.

With the economy improving and hoping for a successful transition in Iraq, Bush could pick up a lot more steam, and votes, in these states over the summer, making more and more battleground states out of what pundits assumed were safely in Kerry's corner.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 20, 2004 11:52 AM

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