President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are within a quarter-mile of each other Wednesday as they both campaign in Iowa, a state where polls show them neck-and-neck in the race for the White House.
The two's paths almost crossed in Davenport (search), a city that some political experts say provided Democrat Al Gore the ballots he needed to capture the state with a margin of less than 5,000 votes in 2000.
Gore made a well-timed visit to Iowa a month before the 2000 election. Wednesday's swing will be Bush's fourth trip to the state this year.
The near run-ins will be a testament to how focused the two candidates are on winning over undecided voters in key battleground states. On Saturday, their competing campaign caravans passed almost within sight of each other in western Pennsylvania.
"It occurred to me that he could come here for a great discussion about America's future if he were really willing to just turn a corner," Kerry said at an economic summit in Davenport. The presidential nominee was poking fun at Bush's campaign slogan, "We've turned the corner, and we're not turning back."
On his trip, Bush predicted he will win in November because his administration has improved the economy and bolstered national security.
"The other folks talk a good game. We deliver," the president told thousands of cheering supporters on the banks of the Mississippi River, adding that his efforts in the war on terrorism, both in Iraq and Afghanistan have "made America safer."
Of the state he narrowly lost in 2000, Bush said: "This time we're going to carry it."
The president will also be stumping Wednesday in Minnesota, where he will promote an environmental program.
Fresh off his Democratic nomination in Boston, Kerry has been taking his campaign to Republican strongholds — from Newburgh, N.Y., to Harrisburg, Pa., to Grand Rapids, Mich. — as he tries to woo independents and GOP voters by stressing values, fiscal discipline, middle-class tax cuts, even his love of hunting and fishing.
"This doesn't have a political label," Kerry said Tuesday in Beloit, Wis. "I know you're not just here for a label. You're not here for Democrat, Republican, independent, liberal or conservative. You're here to find out whether or not someone can lead this country with common sense and mainstream American values that make America fair."
Bush's campaign rally Wednesday in Davenport, along the banks of the Mississippi River, is barely three blocks from where Kerry will listen to the stories of manufacturing job losses in the state, which have totaled more than 26,000 since Bush took office.
Bush cited the state's relatively low jobless rate, 4.3 percent in June, which has consistently been below the national average, which was 5.6 percent in June. He said that since his presidency began, he has opened up markets overseas for Iowa farmers and has lowered their taxes.
"I have made the success of Iowa farmers and ranchers a priority, and America is better off for it," the president said.
In yet another appeal to conservatives, Kerry announced a list of 200 business leaders who support him.
But Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said conservatives wouldn't follow Kerry because the senator has proposed massive new spending programs, voted against funding for troops and taken many other liberal positions during his Senate career.
"He's traveling to Republican areas telling people that he shares their conservative values, but that record doesn't compare with his out-of-the-mainstream voting record in the United States Senate," Schmidt said.
Iowa Republicans say they are not surprised that the incumbent president is in a dead heat with Kerry in the Hawkeye State (search).
"After what happened in 2000, with the election going to the Supreme Court — that hardened many people's attitudes," former Iowa state Republican chairman Michael Mahaffey said. "Democratic Party activists have been very disgruntled, and they want to make sure they do everything they can to make sure that George Bush is defeated."
Mahaffey's added that the "passion is more to get George Bush defeated than it is to get John Kerry elected."
In the Mankato, Minn., area, Bush planned to highlight a national program that would provide $40 billion over the next decade to restore millions of acres of wetlands, protect sensitive habitats, conserve water and improve streams and waterways near farms and ranches.
Kerry's camp sent Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin to Minnesota to criticize Bush's level of support for the conservation program, saying Minnesota has seen fewer acres approved for enrollment in the program.
But coming into Bush country means the Massachusetts senator has to deal with supporters of the current president, who are showing their opposition to the Democratic candidate by putting big signs on their lawns when Kerry drives by or by protesting at his events.
As Kerry shook hands with voters behind a rope line in Monroe, Wis., he approached a small group of Bush supporters with a homemade sign that read "No flip-flops in the White House" and had a red pair of the plastic shoes attached to it.
A Kerry aide saw the sign just as the candidate was about to shake the protesters' hands and, with a whisper in his ear, guided him away just before there could have been a confrontation.
In Shullsburg, Wis., Kerry's bus stopped so he could greet some well-wishers along the road, and a man asked Kerry about his vote against funding body armor for U.S. troops. Kerry says the charge was a distortion of his record.
"It's killing you in this area," the man said.
Kerry moved on to shake more hands, but turned back and told him, "I'd never leave those troops without their body armor, you know that."
One calculation in Bush's visit to rural Minnesota may be the overlap effect on Iowa. Mankato has a television station that broadcasts into Iowa, says political science professor Joseph Kunkel of Minnesota State University in Mankato (search).
The president was visiting a farm in the town of LeSueur, Minn., and a quarry in Mankato.
Bush lost Minnesota in 2000 with 45.5 percent of the vote. Gore got 47.9 percent.
Bush's last visit to the state was in July to Duluth, traditionally considered Democratic territory. Southern Minnesota is more reliably Republican, though Kunkel said Mankato itself is considered more Democratic.
Kerry has spent the last several months jetting into big cities, which tend to vote Democratic. Kerry's advisers say there will be more of that in the fall, but the bus trip gives him a chance to stop in the medium-size markets that were decided by a slim margin in 2000 and where Bill Clinton did well as he won the White House in 1992 and 1996.
The bus tour may be especially helpful in August, since Kerry has pulled his television ads to save money for the fall campaign.
His caravan of buses grabs attention wherever it goes. Kerry's lead bus has blinking police lights and a sound system that can blast music outside.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.