We're getting the first hints -- and they're really just hints -- of the effect the Osama bin Laden tape may have on the presidential race. On a conference call with reporters Saturday afternoon, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg said that polling conducted Friday night and Saturday morning put John Kerry up over George Bush, 48-47.
That's a very slight narrowing from the 49-47 percent lead Kerry held in the last Democracy Corps poll -- so slight that Greenberg declared the result "stable." Greenberg said his poll put another question to voters: Does the bin Laden tape make you think Bush "took his eye off the ball in Afghanistan and diverted resources to Iraq," or does it underscore "the importance of George Bush's approach to the war on terrorism." On that question, Greenberg said voters split 46-36 in favor of the position critical of Bush.
The latest Fox News tracking poll also puts a damper on the theory that the bin Laden tape could yield a Bush bounce. Although Bush is up by two among likely voters, 47 percent to 45 percent, and tied with Kerry among registered voters, his support has actually dropped among likelies in Fox's poll. Bush was up by five in a poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday night. In the poll released today about half of the voters were interviewed on Friday night, after they had the chance to see reports about the re-emergence of bin Laden.
The Kerry team is feeling good about the numbers right now. Kerry advisor Tad Devine said that internal Kerry campaign polls has Kerry ahead in most of the battleground states, and he said Bush is "mired in the mid-40s" in most of them. Pollsters and analysts -- and even Bush-Cheney's Matthew Dowd -- have said that the number to watch is Bush's percentage of the vote. If that number stays well below 50, Kerry will have a good shot to win on election day.
"It's striking if you go state by state by state in these battleground states and see how much trouble [Bush] is having getting over 45 percent," Kerry spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
As Greenberg and Devine spoke from Washington, Kerry spoke at rallies in Wisconsin and Iowa Saturday. The crowds were enthusiastic but relatively small. A few hundred people turned out to see Kerry Saturday morning in Appleton, Wisc., and Saturday afternoon in Des Moines. Weather was a factor in both places: It rained off and on in Appleton, and a biting wind blew through Des Moines. But still, the crowds were smaller than the campaign might have liked. Gore carried Wisconsin and Iowa by slim margins in 2000, and Kerry likely will need to hold on to one or both of the states if he can't take Florida. If recent polls are any indication, Wisconsin is the better bet for Kerry at the moment.
Kerry will campaign Friday night in Youngstown, Ohio. On Sunday, he'll attend church in Dayton, Ohio, in the morning, fly to New Hampshire for a mid-day rally in Manchester, and then trek south to Florida for a late-night rally in a park in Tampa.