Matt Towery

The InsiderAdvantage poll follows closely on the heels of a CBS/New York Times survey that also showed Bush with a modest lead. Both surveys had Bush and Kerry as being either ahead in the race or very close to the lead, within the margins of error. I have little doubt these polls accurately reflect current sentiment among the American public.

The key question is what these numbers will be next month. Will the president's early attack ads continue to eat into Kerry's support? Or will the sputtering stock market and an increasingly pronounced anti-American attitude abroad create a feeling of discontent and unease among voters?

It may well be that no single issue will decide the presidential race as much as the overall image each candidate projects. That jostling for a positive image will be the true battleground as the campaign unfolds. Kerry must find a way to appeal more to women and independents, both traditionally strong demographics for the Democrats. Bush currently is bucking that tradition; he is capturing a remarkable 15 percent more of women voters than Kerry, and 17 percent more independents!

As for Bush, he must make a better appeal to self-described political moderates, who currently favor Kerry by a substantial margin.

Of course, 9 percent don't yet know for whom they will vote, so plenty of room remains for another photo finish presidential race. If there's a difference so far between 2004 and earlier presidential campaigns, it's mainly the early blitz of TV ads this time and the fact that the race is already extremely close; usually these two phenomena don't come about until summer or thereabouts.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a pollster, attorney, businessman and former elected official. He served as campaign strategist for Congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns. His latest book is Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth. Follow him on Twitter @MattTowery