A dead heat in race for the White House: now Kerry and Bush pick up the pace

John Kerry emerged the clear winner yesterday from his third and final debate with President George Bush, buoying the spirits of his campaign as he seeks to establish a clear lead in the 18 remaining days of an extraordinarily tight United States presidential election.

John Kerry emerged the clear winner yesterday from his third and final debate with President George Bush, buoying the spirits of his campaign as he seeks to establish a clear lead in the 18 remaining days of an extraordinarily tight United States presidential election.

As he did in their previous two encounters, Senator Kerry came across as far more assured on policy issues, especially on meat-and-potatoes topics such as health care, jobs and social security. A clutch of instant polls gave him the edge by margins ranging from 1 percentage point to 14 percentage points.

Since his knockout performance in the first debate in Miami two weeks ago, the Democratic challenger has raced from behind and turned the contest into a dead heat. His hope now is that undecided voters will continue to opt for him in sufficient numbers to put key swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida firmly into his column and with them an unassailable majority in the electoral college.

But it is not yet certain whether Senator Kerry can achieve this goal on the strength of the debates alone or if he still has some work to do to make American voters warm to him and his occasionally chilly, somewhat aloof patrician manner.

President Bush may have had trouble answering Mr Kerry's withering criticisms on domestic policy - the focus of the debate at Arizona State University - but he can take solace from his best performance of the three encounters. The scowling and terse, rote answers that sunk him in the first debate were replaced by smiles and the occasional dash of humour, making him much more likable.

The President fared poorly in the post-debate fact-check analysis conducted on the main television networks and on the internet, but during the debate he suffered no crushing blows and made no glaring gaffes. He may also have benefited from a certain sense of debate fatigue - a feeling that most of the rhetoric had been heard before and that the basic dynamics of the race remain unchanged.

In a campaign season peppered with baseball references - spin-doctors from both camps told reporters after the debate that their man was the better "closer" - Senator Kerry faces a challenge not unlike that of his beloved Boston Red Sox, whose latest World Series game with their eternal rivals, the New York Yankees, offered stiff competition for the nation's attention on Wednesday night.

Like the Red Sox, the Democratic candidate has certainly shown he can rally from behind but final victory could still prove elusive. Even if the debates broke his way, nobody is underestimating the Bush campaign's capacity to change the subject - by playing up fears of another terrorist attack, say - or to launch a last-minute volley of personal attacks similar to those that sank Governor Ann Richards of Texas in 1994 or Senator John McCain in the Republican primaries of 2000.

There is also the very live issue of vote manipulation, or out-and-out fraud. The lawsuits are already flying in Florida, scene of the infamous meltdown in 2000, and accusations of illegal suppression of votes or mishandling of registrations are flying in half a dozen states.

Senator Kerry's most important remaining task is to go beyond the doubts and disillusion with the incumbent's performance that he has helped propagate and get voters genuinely enthused about him. In state after state, the polls show that swing voters are not yet quite ready to throw their lot in with him, especially at a time of war overseas and continuing fear of new al-Qa'ida attacks at home.

Mr Kerry made extensive efforts to broaden his appeal, cracking a self-deprecating joke about the fact that he had "married up" into the billionaire Heinz fortune. He talked at length about his faith in God - something important to mainstream US voters - and how it motivated his passion for social justice. And he cast himself not as a Boston brahmin but rather as the champion of the common man. "I'm going to fight for the American worker just as hard I fight for my own job," he said.

He hammered away, as he has before, on the runaway budget deficit, the job losses of the past four years, the social inequities of the Bush tax cuts and the rising costs of an ever more inaccessible healthcare system. Being lectured by the President on fiscal responsibility, he said in one of his more memorable lines, was "like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country".

The President, meanwhile, seemed intent on painting Senator Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal with an undistinguished 20-year record in Congress and an equivocal stance on national security that would play straight into the hands of America's enemies. "There's a mainstream in American politics and you sit on the far left bank," he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz