NEW YORK – The election is 39 days away and in the last six weeks of campaigning, the candidates are taking more shots at each other, first and foremost on Iraq.
Meanwhile, the ad wars are heating up as each camp attacks and counterattacks on issues such as the war, the economy and Vietnam-era military service.
In a three-way matchup, Bush is backed by 46 percent of voters, Kerry 42 percent and independent candidate Ralph Nader one percent.
Bush receives strong support from Republicans (92 percent), those living in the South (52 percent), and men (48 percent). Bush slightly edges out Kerry among female voters: 44 percent to 42 percent. Kerry receives some of his strongest support from young voters (57 percent), non-whites (62 percent), and those living in the West (49 percent).
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According to an Associated Press poll, Bush solidified his advantage among men during the last month and holds his highest ratings since January on job performance, the economy and Iraq.
Bush has a 7-point lead over Kerry — 52 percent to 45 percent among likely voters — in the AP-Ipsos survey. Nader was backed by 1 percent.
Since the Republican National Convention, Bush's job approval is up, 54 percent among likely voters, and just over half of them approve of his handling of the economy and Iraq. His approval in all three areas is as high as it's been all year in this polling.
Bush holds a 17-point lead among men, while Bush and Kerry are tied among women.
Kerry has a lead over Bush, 54 percent to 38 percent, in California, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll of 1,151 likely voters conducted Sept. 12-19. Another 8 percent were unsure.
Among 535 likely Nevada voters, Bush has a lead of 52 percent over Kerry's 43 percent, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, conducted Sept. 18-21. While 1 percent supported Nader, another 4 percent were unsure.
Bush also has a lead, 51 percent over Kerry's 45 percent in West Virginia, according to another CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 619 likely voters, conducted Sept. 17-20. Another 4 percent were unsure.
According to an ABC News poll of 775 likely voters in Wisconsin, Bush enjoys 53 percent, Kerry enjoys 43 percent and Nader has 1 percent support. The poll, conducted Sept. 16-19, also shows that 9 percent of those surveyed remain undecided.
New ads from the Kerry campaign have been launched on the situation in Iraq, two ads from the Media Fund are on the air discussing the relationships between the Bush Family and the Saudi royal family and a new ad from Texans for Truth calls for Bush to release his military records.
Ad: 'Different Story'
Sponsor: Kerry-Edwards campaign
Narrator: "George Bush keeps telling us things are getting better in Iraq. The facts tell a different story. Terrorists are pouring into the country. Attacks on U.S. forces are increasing every month. A thousand American soldiers have died. We need a fresh start to fix the mess in Iraq. The Kerry Solution: Allies share the burden. Train Iraqis to protect themselves. Take the real steps needed to hold free elections. John Kerry. A new direction in Iraq."
Kerry: "I'm John Kerry and I approved this message."
Ad: 'Missing Pages'
Sponsor: The Media Fund
Narrator: "When congressional investigators issued their report on nine-eleven, there were 28 pages missing. Twenty-eight pages of evidence that the Saudi government funded the terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Evidence kept secret under orders from George Bush. Was it to protect his Saudi friends? Or was Bush helping Jim Baker, the top adviser whose law firm is defending the Saudis in a lawsuit against the victims' families? Either way, Bush and the Saudis are too close for comfort. The Media Fund is responsible for the content of this ad."
Sponsor: Texans for Truth
(Visuals of troops in Iraq)
Voiceover: "Today under President Bush's orders, National Guardsmen are fighting and dying in Iraq serving their country with courage and honor."
(Photo of Bush standing next to plane ... he slowly disappears)
VO: "George Bush walked away from his duty to the nation and to the National Guard."
(Photo of President Bush in uniform with his father)
VO: "His father got him into the Guard and out of the Guard. Mr. President, you owe our troops an explanation. You pledged to release all of your records, but you have not signed the papers to do so. Sign them now. Keep your word. Choose honor. Texans for Truth is responsible for the content of this advertisement."
Ad: 'Just Finish It'
Sponsor: Progress for America Voter Fund
(Photos of Mohammed Atta, Usama bin Laden, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and masked Abu Musab al Zarqawi crew)
Voiceover: "These people want to kill us."
(Man with child in arms in Beslan)
VO: "They killed hundreds of innocent children in Russia, 200 innocent commuters in Spain and more than 3000 innocent Americans."
(photo of blown up train car in Madrid, WTC ruins with firefighters in foreground)
VO: "John Kerry has a 30-year record of supporting cuts in defense and intelligence and endlessly changing positions on Iraq."
(still of masked men with ak-47s)
VO: "Would you trust Kerry against these fanatic killers?"
(Still of Bush in drab bomber jacket in front of massive American flag flanked by soldiers)
VO: "President Bush didn't start this war but he will finish it. Progress for America Voter fund is responsible for this message."
On Bush's Trail...
Just Say 'No' to Mixed Messages
Appearing in the White House Rose Garden with Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi (search), Bush said there was much work to do in Iraq, insisted that neither the United States nor its commander in chief would waiver in their missions, and added that sending "mixed messages" — a clear shot at Kerry — was a no-no.
"It's hard work. The American people know that. But I believe it's necessary work. And I believe a leader must be consistent and clear and not change positions when times get tough," Bush said. "And the times have been hard — these are hard times. But I understand that — what mixed messages do. You can embolden an enemy by sending a mixed message. You can dispirit the Iraqi people by sending mixed messages."
While calling on reporters to ask questions, Bush showed a bit of his comical side, as well, poking fun at the "Memogate" flap that sees CBS News floundering over the authenticity of documents that it said showed the president shirked his Texas Air National Guard service over 30 years ago.
Bush: "Is anybody here from CBS? Roberts, there you are. Please."
Kerry this week slammed the president for saying the CIA "guessed" in the conclusions it included in its National Intelligence Estimate (search) — a document relied upon by the administration and intelligence community to determine credible threats. Bush on Thursday took issue with the word "guessed."
"The other day, I was asked about the National Intelligence Estimate, which is a National Intelligence Estimate," Bush said at a Rose Garden press conference with Allawi. "This is a report that talks about possibilities about what can happen in Iraq, not probabilities. I used an unfortunate word, 'guess.' I should have used 'estimate.'
"And the CIA came and said, this is a possibility, this is a possibility, and this is a possibility. But what's important for the American people to hear is reality. And the reality is right here in the form of the prime minister. And he is explaining what is happening on the ground. That's the best report. And this report was written in July, and now we are here in September, and as I said, 'estimate' would have been a better word."
Cheney Shoots Back
Vice President Cheney, speaking at a political event in St. Joseph, Mo., shot back at John Edwards for his remarks on Iraq (see below):
"I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Senator Kerry showed for this man of courage [Allawi] (boos) ... when he rushed out to hold a press conference and attack the prime minister — the man America must stand beside to defeat the terrorists. John Kerry is trying to tear down all the good that has been accomplished and his words are destructive to our effort in Iraq and in the global war on terror."
On Kerry's Trail...
Avoiding the 'L' Word
In response to Allawi's statements that Iraq is well on its way to democracy and that the terrorists there represent only a fraction of the Iraqi people, most of whom are happy with the work the U.S.-led coalition is doing, Kerry said during a live press conference that Allawi and Bush were putting the "best face on the policy" and stopped just short of calling the president a liar.
"When you are at war, it's important to tell the truth to the American people. I fought in a war when we weren't telling the truth and I know the consequences. So does America," Kerry said. "A president who fails to admit his mistakes is a president who proves that he doesn't know how to make the course correct. A commander-in-chief's first obligation in a time of war is to tell the truth."
Iraq Is a Mess
Kerry's vice-presidential pick, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.,attended a rally in Davenport, Iowa, Thursday afternoon while Kerry nursed a cold. He echoed similar themes on Iraq.
"I want to say something about Iraq. Iraq is a mess. And it is a mess because of two people: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. That's why it's a mess," Edwards said.
"Late Show With David Letterman":
"They've scheduled the presidential debates. It'll be John Kerry and George Bush. There's going to be three debates. And there's going to be categories. Each debate will have a separate category. First category is domestic policy. Second category is foreign policy. The third category will be girl groups from the '60s."
"The Tonight Show With Jay Leno":
"The former singer Cat Stevens, now known by his Islamic name Yusuf Islam, was questioned by the FBI after his plane to Washington was diverted because his name was on a government terror list. You know, it's bad enough our two candidates for president are stuck in the '70s. Apparently, so is airport security."
"Republicans are now saying that Dan Rather should lose his job because he misled the country with bogus information. Which is odd because the Democrats are saying the exact same thing about President Bush."
"John Kerry will debate President Bush in Florida. Right now Kerry has a bad cold — you can barely understand what he's saying — so it looks like it should be a fair fight. In fact, his voice is so bad, doctors have advised him to rest his throat and only give one position on each issue for a while."
"Of course the White House is doing everything they can to bolster President Bush's military image. Like today they gave him a medal for campaigning in the battleground states."
"John Kerry says if he's elected president, he will go to the U.N. and persuade the other nations to help fight the war on terror. We can't get them to pay their parking tickets. Why don't you start with that?"