On the road with the Democrat show

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The Independent US

Boosted and emboldened, the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry yesterday wound up a week of campaigning with his new running mate as a series of polls predicted November's election will be a furiously close-run contest.

Boosted and emboldened, the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry yesterday wound up a week of campaigning with his new running mate as a series of polls predicted November's election will be a furiously close-run contest.

As Mr Kerry and his vice-presidential choice, John Edwards, made campaign stops in New York, polling data showed that while the majority of voters approved of the new running mate, his selection had not yet given Democrats the sort of push they would have hoped for.

"We are a nation that is split down the middle, polarised and hardened," said the pollster John Zogby. "Where we are today is probably where we are going to be through much of the summer, if not through most of the campaign."

A flurry of polls taken after Mr Kerry announced on Tuesday that he had selected the youthful senator from North Carolina to be his running mate, suggest there is barely a cigarette paper's worth of space between the Democratic ticket and President George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. A poll by the Associated Press showed Mr Bush slightly widening his lead over Mr Kerry, while a poll by NBC News gave Mr Kerry the edge. Two other polls - including Mr Zogby's - showed the race to be a statistical tie.

Such polls will be disappointing to Democratic strategists hoping for an immediate boost from the selection of Mr Edwards, picked to add some vitality to Mr Kerry's campaign. A Gallup poll for USA Today showed 54 per cent of people said they had a "favourable" opinion of Mr Edwards while 43 per cent said they had a favourable view of Mr Cheney.

Even the Republicans' own polling experts had predicted Mr Edwards would provide the Democrats with a sizeable jump. Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, predicted before Mr Kerry's announcement that media atten- tion generated by the vice-presidential selection and the 26-27 July Democratic National Convention would push Mr Kerry ahead in polls by as much as 15 percentage points. "Assuming that Kerry enjoys the average challenger's bounce, we should expect the state of the race to swing wildly to his favour by early August,'' he wrote.

But for all of Mr Edwards's popularity, at this stage in the campaign it appears he has not yet persuaded sufficient numbers of undecided voters to back the Democrats to make an impact on the polls. The same Gallup poll that confirmed his popularity showed that 66 per cent of those asked said his selection would not affect the way they voted in November.

Karlyn Bowman, of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, said: "Historically vice-presidents haven't made much of a difference in the vote for president." There is little doubt, however, that Mr Edwards has injected some dynamism into Mr Kerry's campaign, the younger senator's enthusiasm apparently rubbing off on the Massachusetts senator. At an event in Cleveland on Wednesday - his first with Mr Edwards - Mr Kerry said his running mate was a source of "electricity" and boasted that they had "better hair" than their Republican opponents.

In New York on Thursday night, the Democrats collected more than $7.5m (£4m) at a celebrity fundraiser attended by the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Bon Jovi and Paul Newman.

At the event at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, Goldberg greeted Mr Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and then peered into the crowd looking for Mr Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth. "And where's the kid? Where's young Mr Edwards?" she said.Teasing Mr Kerry, Goldberg continued: "Not that you're not youthful. You're very youthful, John. But he looks like he's 18!"

Taking the stage at the end of the evening, Mr Edwards said: "Whoopi Goldberg said earlier tonight that she was afraid she wasn't going to get a phone call to be here." He added: "I can relate to that."

Newman said Mr Bush's tax cuts were "borderline criminal".

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