Well, it is crunch time for Senator Kerry. That is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points" memo.

First some numbers: The polls continue to say President Bush leads the senator by about six points. "The L.A. Times" poll released a few hours ago has it at Bush 51, Kerry 45, Nader two.

So it is clear nationally the president is holding his lead. But more troubling for Mr. Kerry is the battleground state situation. Here in Florida, for example, a brand-new Gallup poll says Bush is up nine. You may remember "Talking Points" predicted the president would win Florida.

In Ohio, Gallup (search) has Bush up two. In Pennsylvania, Bush by three. In Michigan, "The Detroit Free Press" has Bush up two. And in Wisconsin, a Harris poll has the president up a whopping 10 points.

That means that if John Kerry does not win the debate this evening, he likely will not win the presidency, unless something enormous happens in the next five weeks.

You almost have to feel sorry for John Kerry. He's in a tough spot. As you saw all this week on “The Factor”, President Bush is going to come out optimistic. He's going to say America will prevail in Iraq, win the war there, that we are safer because Saddam's out, and that the economy is good. The president will be optimistic on almost everything.  And in a time of terror, that is comforting to many.

Senator Kerry, on the other hand, has to be pessimistic. He has to tell you things are not going well. In order to replace Mr. Bush, Kerry has to convince you the country's going down the drain.  Obviously, that's not comforting.

Also, Kerry can't be too mean to the president because Americans generally like Mr. Bush personally. Kerry can't go too negative because the senator himself has to be likable in order to win the election.

So you can see John Kerry has a tough road here tonight.  And in the next hour, we will analyze just what is likely to happen in the debate, which begins at 9:00 this evening

And that is "The Memo."

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