WASHINGTON – The road to the White House is taking some strange and sharp turns as tightening polls and pressure from party stalwarts force the presidential campaigns to adjust their strategies.
In a flurry of homestretch activity, former President Clinton was giving satellite interviews to television stations in reliably Democratic Hawaii to shore up Sen. John Kerry's (search) campaign Wednesday, and President Bush poured last-minute money into the Northeast to keep Democrats at bay in New Hampshire.
That's not all. Bowing to pressure from Clinton and two prominent senators, Democrats shifted resources to Arkansas and West Virginia despite doubts on Kerry's team about his ability to win there.
Democrats were also adding money to Michigan, reflecting concerns that Kerry has failed to nail down the must-win state.
And what's with the polls showing Arizona and New Jersey so close?
"Both sides are playing everywhere they can, because it's a close race and because they can — money is no problem for either campaign so they're spreading it around," said Democratic consultant Dane Strother. "It's too close to leave anything to chance."
In any close race, presidential campaigns focus their resources on states that could add up to the winning 270 Electoral College (search) votes, a majority of the 538 available.
This campaign is no exception, with nine states getting the most attention and advertising because polls show the candidates essentially tied in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Nevada and Wisconsin.
A few others, including Bush-leaning Colorado and Kerry-leaning Michigan, are not quite tossups. But they're not quite forgotten, either.
Hawaii backed Democrat Al Gore (search) by nearly 20 percentage points in 2000 and only votes GOP in re-election landslides — Ronald Reagan (search) in 1984 and Richard Nixon (search) in 1972. But polls show Bush within striking distance, forcing the Democratic National Committee to begin advertising on the islands Wednesday and prompting Clinton to arrange interviews.
One liberal interest group began airing radio ads, a second went on TV. Organized labor ratcheted up its efforts on the islands.
Those are all resources that could have gone to Ohio or Florida, the two most coveted states on the political map.
Bush increased his advertising budget in Maine this week after reducing it several days ago. The reversal had nothing to do with Maine voters; the White House believes Kerry will win the state's four electoral votes unless Bush wins the popular vote by a wide margin.
It's about New Hampshire, strategists in both parties say. The two states share television markets and polls show Kerry threatening Bush's fragile grip on New Hampshire's four electoral votes. The Democratic National Committee is advertising in the expensive Boston market, too, making a run at New Hampshire, which backed Bush in 2000.
Surveys also suggest the race is surprisingly close in Arkansas, West Virginia and Missouri. While Kerry advisers privately acknowledge their boss probably won't win the trio unless he rolls up 52 percent of the popular vote or so nationwide, they're not taking any chances.
In Arkansas, a state Bush won by 5 percentage points in 2000, Kerry and his allies are revving up their phone-bank campaign and dispatching Clinton to his home state. An affiliate of MoveOn.Org, a liberal interest group, is airing ads.
Under pressure from Clinton, the Democratic National Committee is considering following suit.
It's the same in West Virginia, where the DNC bought ad time, officials said, in part to mollify Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. They had argued that West Virginia was in play.
The DNC is considering an 11th-hour advertising campaign in Missouri, too. Most of Kerry's team in the state was shifted to Iowa weeks ago.
As for Bush, his advisers sent a GOP events planner from Oregon to Ohio in recent days after concluding there won't be any events to plan on the Democratic-leaning West Coast.
Republicans shifted some staff to New Jersey a few weeks ago after polls showed Bush and Kerry running even in the Democratic bastion. Surveys still show the race close, but the president never pulled the trigger on plans to advertise in the expensive New York market to reach New Jersey voters.
Democratic leaders in Arizona argue that their ground game can defeat Bush, even without advertising in a state that went GOP by 6 percentage points in 2000.
"Both sides are looking under every rock and in every corner for every potential electoral vote," said Republican consultant Joe Gaylord. "That will go on until Friday. And then it's all about Ohio and Florida. Ohio and Florida, Ohio and Florida, Ohio and Florida," he said.
"And of course," he said with a laugh, "Ohio and Florida."