In Michigan, Gore beat Bush by 5 percent, when there was a successful Republican governor, John Engler. Now there is a popular Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm. But, says the determinedly cheerful Bush campaign operative, Bush gains because Engler is gone: In 2000, Michiganders felt ``Engler fatigue'' after 10 years of his stewardship. And he had split Republicans by opposing a school-choice initiative. Furthermore, says the operative, this year social conservatives will be pulled to the polls by a ballot initiative to write same-sex marriage into Michigan's Constitution.
But as the operative acknowledges, both parties' core voters already are so motivated, ``they will be at the polls at 6 a.m.'' And two recent Michigan surveys have Bush at 43 percent, with Kerry at 46 in one and 50 in the other.
Pennsylvania, where Kerry leads and Gore beat Bush by 4 percent, presents the Bush campaign with a complicated calculation. It can try to win the state with issues like abortion, guns and capital punishment. This will drive up Kerry's winning margin in culturally liberal states, which does not matter -- unless it leads to a second Bush win with fewer popular votes nationally than his opponent. That would make Bush's second term even more disappointing than second terms generally are.
A cultural conservative, Rick Santorum, has been elected senator twice in Pennsylvania. But a campaign of cultural conservatism would cost Bush votes in Philadelphia suburbs. And with the electorate so polarized, it is unclear how many votes Bush could move his way.
Perhaps the most telling political fact of midsummer is this: More U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq in July (43 as of Thursday morning, Eastern time) than in June (42). But since Iraq acquired sovereignty, of sorts, the war has faded somewhat as a cause of nagging national dread.
According to a veteran Republican polltaker, there is still no evidence that anxiety about Iraq is pulling significant numbers of Bush supporters into the undecided category. But, then, considering that the last election result would have been reversed by the switch of 269 votes in Florida (or 3,606 in New Hampshire, or 13,784 in Nevada, or 20,490 in West Virginia), what number might prove to be ``significant''?