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.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teacher require...

KS1 Teacher

£21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style