Robert Novak

 WASHINGTON -- Pollster John Zogby surprised the political world back in April with a long-range prediction that John Kerry would defeat George W. Bush for president. On Monday this week, Zogby told me, he changed his mind. He now thinks the president is more likely to be re-elected because he has reinforced support from his base, including married white women.

 That conclusion would be a surprise for frantically nervous Republicans and cautiously upbeat Democrats entering the campaign's final days. In fact, nobody, including Zogby and all the other polltakers, can be sure who will win this election. Yet, it is clear that President Bush's strategists have succeeded in solidifying his base to a degree that makes it much harder to defeat him next Tuesday.

 The long, tortuous presidential contest has come down to who the "security mom" thinks can best protect her family against terrorism. Based on current polling data, Bush has won that argument in the face of Sen. Kerry's relentless attacks. That explains why the Democratic nominee this week was not talking about health care or other standby issues of his party, but was trying to pierce Bush's security shield by harping on the disappearance of munitions in Iraq.

 The difficulty that Kerry now encounters has been shrouded by misleading overnight tracking from last weekend, showing a Democratic surge that is common in Friday-through-Sunday polling. Otherwise, Kerry is in trouble. When Zogby had second thoughts Monday, he found Bush with a national lead of three percentage points and an undecided vote of only 2.7 percent.

 The data shows the undecided voters in Bush's base are resolving their misgivings about the president. Zogby's subgroups in the Republican base -- such as investors, military and married couples -- are returning to Bush.

 Zogby shows Kerry's advantage among women is only three percentage points, exactly the same margin reflected in the nightly tracking by Republican pollster Ed Goeas. The Goeas poll shows a 13-percentage point Bush advantage among men. Goeas's poll has white men favoring Bush over Kerry, 58 percent to 35 percent. Remarkably, the count among white married women is not far behind: 53 percent for Bush, 42 percent for Kerry. The problem for the Democrats is Bush's continued large lead over Kerry concerning which candidate voters prefer to fight terrorism.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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