Polls reinforce Teresa Kerry's fears of 'four more years of hell' under Bush

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The Independent US

Opinions polls differ over how much "bounce" the Democratic candidate John Kerry has obtained from his convention last week. There is no argument however about the different kind of bounce his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry is providing to his campaign.

Opinions polls differ over how much "bounce" the Democratic candidate John Kerry has obtained from his convention last week. There is no argument however about the different kind of bounce his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry is providing to his campaign.

Breaking yet again with the unwritten protocol that actual and potential presidential spouses play a mostly decorative role on the hustings, Mrs Kerry made no bones about what she thought of George Bush and his intelligence, as she introduced her husband at a rally in the key swing state of Wisconsin.

"They want four more years of hell," she replied as a Bush-supporting heckler in the crowd at a park in Milwaukee interrupted her with the traditional incumbent's refrain of "four more years". Mrs Kerry then gave a time frame of her own. "Three more months," she declared, referring to the 2 November election date.

A few moments later, she was even more outspoken, addressing the situation in Iraq and the Bush administration's refusal to admit even the smallest mistake in the conduct of the war, and seemingly casting an aspersion on the President's judgement and intellect. "It's vital for anyone with intelligence to acknowledge mistakes and change positions," she said.

The forthright language of Mrs Kerry ­ she last week launched one of the political quotes of the year when she told a pestering conservative reporter to "Shove it" ­ only underlines how she has become a loose cannon in the campaign. Though her frankness appeals to many women and independent-minded voters, it also offers the Republicans bountiful ammunition which might help them in a neck-and-neck race for the White House.

Even geography underlines how little there is to choose between the two candidates, as they crisscross the handful of battleground states where the election will be decided. If their schedules hold, both Mr Bush and Mr Kerry will be campaigning today just three blocks apart in Davenport, a river-town in Iowa, a state narrowly carried by Al Gore in 2000, but which the Republicans hope to capture this time.

The signs are that in an unusually polarised electorate, most voters have already made up their minds, and the outcome may be decided less by a small pool of undecided voters in the centre, than by the ability of the two parties to get their committed supporters to the polls.

Despite what was generally considered a successful gathering in Boston last week, capped by a powerful and well-received acceptance speech, Mr Kerry has failed to secure a candidate's usual post-convention boost ­ at least so far. Polls in Newsweek, and by The Washington Post/ABCNews suggest the Democratic ticket gained a mere three or four points, to lead Mr Bush and Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, by 49-42 and 50-44 per cent respectively.

Though a more than useful gain in so close fought an election year, the "bounce" is meagre compared with previous elections. The Bill Clinton/Al Gore ticket for instance soared almost 20 per cent after the 1992 Democratic convention in New York, and never fell behind again.

But a CNN/Gallup poll at the weekend found that Mr Kerry actually slipped by 1 per cent and Mr Bush advanced slightly during the week in Boston. The survey was dismissed by the Kerry campaign as "an aberration". But Republicans argued that it showed the limits of the Massachusetts senator's appeal to ordinary Americans, boasting that their man would do much better when the Republicans hold their own convention in New York in four weeks' time.

Democrats, however, say that Mr Bush is such a known quantity that whatever happens in New York will change few minds.

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