Washington state, once considered a fiercely competitive presidential battleground, is firmly in Democrat John Kerry's (search) column heading into the final weeks of a volatile campaign, according to a new poll commissioned by The Columbian.

Kerry, who considers the three West Coast states a key part of his electoral math to defeat President Bush, led the Republican president 51 percent to 42 percent among Washington respondents.

Bush has led in recent national polls, although some analysts say the race remains too close to call and hinges on a relatively small number of undecided voters.

Republicans haven't carried Washington since Ronald Reagan's re-election bid of 1984. The Bush-Cheney ticket lost the state by 5.6 percentage points in 2000.

The new poll suggests the trend will continue.

"This is one of Kerry's better states in the country" and Washington no longer seems to be a battleground state, said pollster Thom Riehle, president of Ipsos-Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The poll of Washington state voters was conducted Sept. 17-20 by Ipsos-Public Affairs and commissioned by The Columbian newspaper of Vancouver. Ipsos-Public Affairs is a division of the global survey research firm Ipsos, which does polling for The Associated Press in the United States and internationally.

The presidential poll reflected the views of 406 registered voters. The margin of error is 4.9 percentage points.

The poll showed that most voters have made up their minds — 49 percent saying they planned to vote for the Kerry-Edwards ticket and 41 percent for the Bush-Cheney ticket. Each ticket picked up roughly 2 percent more from people who said they lean toward the particular candidate.

Independent Ralph Nader, who took more than 4 percent of the state vote in 2000 when he ran on the Green Party ticket, appears to be less of a factor this year. He was the choice of 2 percent of the poll respondents, with another 1 percent saying they lean his way.

The poll showed little chance for massive defections from either candidates. Just 4 percent of the president's backers said they might change their mind and only 7 percent of Kerry's said they could switch allegiance. The national polling shows a bit more fluidity.

Other recent polls have put Kerry up by between six and eight percentage points in Washington.

Both candidates have made repeat visits to Washington, raising money, hiring organizers and blanketing the airwaves with commercials this summer.

Vern Schager, 51, a Bainbridge Island engineer who took part in the Ipsos poll, said he's an independent who often agrees with Republicans on economic issues. But he said he's voting for Kerry in November.

"It's all about what happened with the Iraq war," he said in an interview. "We should never have gone there in the first place. The U.N. inspectors couldn't find any weapons of mass destruction there and he just pushed anyway.

"Everything else seems tied into the war. I'm not happy about the economy and if we had been spending all this money at home on education and health care instead of overseas, he (Bush) would be like a god.

"So I'm in a mode of Anybody but Bush."

Kerry hasn't been a stellar candidate, he added. "He should not have gotten tied up in the catfighting over what happened 30 years ago. I don't care about Bush's National Guard service or what happened to Kerry in Vietnam."

Nancy Clayton, 45, of Tumwater, supervisor at a grocery store, said she's a strong supporter of the president.

"I think he's done a good job with what he got dealt. He came into office after eight years of nonsense and affairs (in the Clinton White House), then 9-11 happened.

"I think he's done an excellent job. He has great morals, a nice family, very human."

The war had to be fought "for our security's sake" and to put terrorists on notice, she said. Kerry waffles and panders, she said. "He gives you what he thinks you want to hear and that's a little scary to me."