INTRO: President Bush campaigned in New Mexico Sunday, while his Democratic Party challenger, John Kerry, pressed for votes in Florida. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, with little over a week before the election, public opinion polls continue to show an extremely tight presidential race.

TEXT: Two recent polls of likely voters [Zogby and Newsweek] both show President Bush leading Senator Kerry 48-to-46 percent - a two-point difference that is within the margin of error for both polls. Other surveys of likely voters have yielded similar results, showing President Bush ahead on a national basis, but just barely ahead.

Republican strategists note that Mr. Bush has consistently led in the vast majority of polls taken in recent weeks. Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman spoke on ABC's "This Week" program:


"There have been 43 polls taken since the third [presidential] debate. We [President Bush] has been ahead in 34. There have been seven that have been tied. There has been one where Senator Kerry was ahead. I like our position. We have always said the election would be close."

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But the electoral picture is complicated. In 2000, then-vice president Al Gore got more votes nationwide than George Bush. Yet Mr. Bush won the election after securing 25 all-important electoral votes in the hotly-contested state of Florida. This year, President Bush leads Senator Kerry by 30-percent or more in many sparsely-populated states like Utah and Wyoming. But in critical, so-called "battleground" states, like voter-rich Ohio and Pennsylvania, the contest is more evenly matched.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press", Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Mr. Kerry is doing well in the states where the election will be decided.


"Every one of the polls has John Kerry leading in the battleground states. The polls have us [Kerry] up in Ohio - [with] 20 electoral votes. If we win Florida and Ohio, the election is over [Kerry wins]."

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Both candidates will have well-known figures at their side in the final days before the November 2 vote. On the Republican side, California Governor and action-movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is slated to appeal for votes on the president's behalf. John Kerry will get help from former-president Bill Clinton, who is scheduled to appear in Pennsylvania and Florida despite having undergone heart surgery last month.

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Speaking on "Fox News Sunday", Kerry campaign advisor Tad Devine said Mr. Clinton will provide a boost to the Democratic ticket.

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"President Clinton has enormous standing with the base of the Democratic Party. He will energize it."

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But White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett sees Mr. Clinton's appearances as a sign of weakness on the Kerry side.


"President Clinton - we all wish him well and hope he is feeling better, but the fact that John Kerry is going to have to roll him off the surgery table and onto the campaign trail demonstrates that he [Kerry] is underperforming in key parts of his own constituency."

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Yet both parties are working to mobilize their base. Political analysts say, in a close race, voter turnout will be critical - and the better a candidate energizes his party's core constituencies, the better his chances of victory at the polls. (SIGNED)