John Kerry (search) thought he had Michigan's 17 electoral votes sewed up until polls showed his plans on the verge of unraveling.

Realizing that President Bush had narrowed the race in a state Democrat Al Gore (search) won by 5 percentage points in 2000, Kerry rushed advertising money to Michigan and paid a visit himself this week.

He can't afford to lose any states won by Gore four years ago, certainly not one that hasn't backed a Republican presidential candidate in 16 years. Kerry advisers say they're confident the state will remain in the Democratic column, though Bush is pressing hard.

The president visited for two straight days this week, appealing to blue-collar conservative Democrats in Saginaw on Thursday with criticism of Kerry's leadership ability.

Ed Sarpolus, a Michigan pollster, said Kerry holds a slight edge over Bush but the state has a habit of staying close enough to force 11th-hour candidate visits.

"Like in 1992, 1996 and 2000, the presidential race is ending in Michigan," he said. "Bush and Kerry have done all the damage they can in every other state, now it's time to do Michigan."

The ancestral home of "Reagan Democrats" who backed President Reagan in the 1980s, Michigan supported Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.

The last Republican to win Michigan was Bush's father, who had been Reagan's vice president. Reagan had won in the 1980s by wooing blue-collar Democrats, many of them Catholics and union members who decided that their party had grown too liberal on social issues.

Bush is courting the children and grandchildren of these "Reagan Democrats" in the swing-voting northern suburbs of Detroit while trying to increase turnout in the vast rural areas north of Saginaw. Once a Democratic stronghold, the northern reaches of the state are becoming more Republican.

Kerry hopes the state's ailing economy (240,600 jobs have been lost since Bush took office) and concerns about Iraq (30 Michigan soldiers have died in the war) keep wavering Democrats on his side.

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BY THE NUMBERS:

900 million — Pounds of apples produced annually in Michigan, third in the nation.

5,305 — Election precincts; 3,476 use optical scan machines.

96 — Percentage of Michigan's eligible voters registered to vote

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QUOTABLE:

— "I keep hearing ... from President Bush, `We're recovering.' That's a lie. We're not recovering, we're imploding." — Jim Mroncis, 61, who has seen business at his Grand Rapids coffeehouse decline.

— "They talk about terrorism. Our inner cities have been dealing with terrorism on the streets for a long time." — Lonnie Brown, 53, senior pastor at Kingdom of Heaven Ministries in Flint, who says neither Democrats nor Republicans have done enough to address the needs of blacks.

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NOTABLE:

Unions are pouring money and effort into neighborhood canvassing, voter education and get-out-the-vote drives for Kerry. In the 2000 presidential election, 43 percent of Michigan ballots came from union households, according to exit polls.

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WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:

With more challenges than usual expected on election night, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, a Republican, plans to have state lawyers available to settle disputes in local polling places. Land says she hopes they're not needed, but given the number of people employed as poll watchers by political parties and other groups, she expects they will be.

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IN MICHIGAN FOUR YEARS AGO:
About three in five voters with a union member in the household supported Democrat Al Gore. Bush and Gore fought to a near draw among Catholics and Protestants, while those affiliated with other religions or no religion supported Gore.