This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," May 1, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: The same-sex marriage debate in the battleground states is the topic of this week's trail dust.

Gay marriage may be off the front burner in Washington, but outside the Beltway, the issue could be a major factor in this year's election for president and for ... ballot races as well. In at least seven swing states, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Missouri, Michigan, and Minnesota, a vote on gay marriage could wind up on the November ballot, a move that Democrats worry could bring out social conservatives in droves.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: And boy, they ought to worry, because it is the issue, it, you know, the gay marriage issue is understood and misunderstood in political terms. Yes, Democrats and some political analysts say, Well, Bush has to talk about it to shore up his base. He's got his base. He doesn't need to worry about that.

It's a valuable issue for Bush because it splits the Democratic base, in Ohio, in particular. Remember, you remember those exit polls that showed that more than half the Democrats oppose gay marriage. There are polls since then that show the undecided in Ohio would go six to one for Bush on that issue alone.

I was just up in Minnesota, and Democrats are frantic to keep gay rights, gay marriage, a referendum, off the ballot, one that would ban gay marriage in Minnesota, off the ballot, because they figure it will bring out dormant Republican voters, and Bush will win the state. And in fact, some Republicans think that the only way Bush can win the state is if there's a gay marriage referendum on the ballot.

KONDRACKE: So it is a wedge issue.

BARNES: Well, it is, and it's a wedge right through the Democratic Party. On the other hand, it's a legitimate issue.

KONDRACKE: So you think that a, say, a union voter who's a, a devout churchgoer but is, is in fear of losing his job, is going to go, and he's going to vote against gay marriage, and then he's going to vote against John Kerry, he's going to vote for Bush?

BARNES: Yes, no, this...


BARNES: ... this is the only issue on which he might do that, because he's not going to agree that, the guy you're talking about is not going to agree with Bush on tax cuts, probably, and he, and he may not agree with Bush on Iraq. But he does agree with Bush on gay marriage.

And what you misunderstood, misunderstand, being an inside-the-Beltway type, is that people out there recognize that it is an important issue, they're willing to talk about it, they don't think they're bigots because they are opposing gay marriage. And they're not.

KONDRACKE: ... that requires, that requires Bush going out and campaigning on this issue.

BARNES: Indeed it does, exactly.

KONDRACKE: OK, all right ... wedge, wedge, wedge, wedge issue politics...

BARNES: And he should, because it's ... a legitimate issue.

KONDRACKE: ... but interestingly, interestingly, the polls on this issue are narrowing. The NBC-Wall Street Journal poll indicated that people are against, are in favor of the gay marriage amendment to the Constitution...


KONDRACKE: ... by only 50 to 44 ... percent, and that independents and Midwesterners...

BARNES: Mort...

KONDRACKE: ... are only a plurality are actually against it.

BARNES: Mort, they're going to vote on whether they're for or against gay marriage, not on an amendment, so you can forget about that part. All right.

Time to check out this week's batch of new statewide polls in battleground states.

We begin in Michigan, where President Bush traveled this week. He's fallen 4 points behind Kerry there. It's a state that Gore won by 5 points in 2000. Bush is behind Kerry in New Hampshire, also by 4 points. Bush won that state by 1 percent in 2000. And in Oregon, Kerry's up by 2 points. Gore won that state by less than 1 percent in 2000. And in West Virginia, a new poll shows Bush up 4 points over Kerry. Bush won that state by 5 points in 2000. Maybe West Virginia's becoming a Republican state.

KONDRACKE: That I doubt. OK, no new states have changed hands this week, so the electoral scoreboard remains as it was last week ...

Bush has 310 electoral votes, Kerry has 228.

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