Excited Republican loyalists were harbouring high hopes yesterday that their man in America's marathon election derby, President George Bush, may at last have broken the deadlock with his rival, Senator John Kerry, with just 60 days until polling day.
Mr Bush, flush from the energy generated by the Republican convention in New York and buoyed by a new poll showing him with a double-digit lead in the race, campaigned in Ohio yesterday, a finely balanced state that is considered a must-win by both camps.
A poll by Time magazine, taken during the four days of the Republican confab in Madison Square Garden, showed the President earning an 11-point lead over Mr Kerry.
It was only one poll and since it was conducted during the heat of the New York convention may not be the most reliable. But it was enough to give Mr Bush a new sense of advantage as the election goes into its final stretch. He was also seeking to draw strength from new job figures released on Friday. They showed that in August businesses in the US managed to generate a net gain of 144,000 jobs, bringing the overall jobless rate down by a 10th of a point to 5.4 per cent.
"That's lower than the average of the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s," an ebullient Mr Bush declared as he stumped in four states across the Midwest. He was due to visit Pennsylvania after leaving Ohio last night before returning to the White House today.
If the Democrats are glum, they are trying not to show it. Aides to Mr Kerry acknowledged that the President appeared to have garnered some bounce in his numbers in the wake of his convention speech on Thursday and the merciless attacks against Mr Kerry by other speakers.
They insisted that the Time numbers were exaggerated, however, and that any Republican honeymoon would be short-lived.
Mr Kerry took far less away from his own convention in Boston a month ago, with a boost in his ratings at the time of about 4 per cent. Until this weekend, the two camps had been in a statistical dead heat for weeks, with only the smallest pool of voters describing themselves as undecided. But the Massachusetts Senator has lost no time in striking back at what he has described as the "lies" spoken about him at the Republican convention.
"Every time they open their mouths, they can't tell the truth about the things that we want to do," he told a crowd of supporters outside Columbus, Ohio. "It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen." In truth, the Democrats have a case in arguing that the jobs figures are hardly as rosy as the President would like to suggest. Mr Bush is almost certainly set to become the first President since Herbert Hoover back in the Depression to preside over a net loss of jobs during his four years in office.
The American economy has, in fact, lost nearly one million jobs since Mr Bush came to the White House. Mr Kerry also likes to underline that for many workers, the quality of the jobs - and the money and benefits they earn from them - have steadily declined.
In an especially acid attack, he asked: "The President wants you to re-elect him. For what? Losing jobs? Building the biggest deficit in American history?"
Mr Kerry and his running mate, Senator John Edwards, as well as their wives, were to spend the Labour Day holiday weekend separately criss-crossing Midwestern swing states before reuniting tomorrow for a series of "front porch" appearances in voters' homes. The Democrats are also spending almost $55m (£30m) on intensive television advertising, especially in markets being visited by Mr Bush.
Dick Cheney, the Vice President, also made a direct dash from New York to the campaign trail, talking up the achievements of his boss to crowds in Oregon. He repeatedly accused Mr Kerry of misunderstanding the imperative of pre-emptive action against enemies and terrorists abroad.
"A good defence is not enough, so we've gone on the offence," he declared in Oregon. "Senator Kerry seems to object. He's even said that by using our strength we are creating terrorists and placing ourselves at greater danger. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the world works. Terrorist attacks are not created by the use of strength. They are a result of the perception of weakness."
The argument over foreign policy and the war on terror is falling the President's way, at least according to the Time poll, which showed 57 per cent of voters trusting him to handle the war on terrorism, compared to 36 per cent for Mr Kerry. Mr Kerry fared better on domestic issues, however, with 48 per cent voicing faith in his ability to handle healthcare issues as against 42 per cent for the President.
Asked who they would vote for on 2 November, 52 per cent plumped for Mr Bush against 41 per cent for Mr Kerry.
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