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Sunday, October 17, 2004

Election Result Delay Expected

MIAMI (Reuters) - Democrat John Kerry sounded a warning to Americans on Social Security as he headed to Florida on Sunday, a critical battleground state where early voting was set to begin under heavy scrutiny because of the recount controversy four years ago.

The Massachusetts senator began the day in a black church in Columbus, Ohio, while his running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards scheduled a second full day of campaigning in Florida, where early balloting begins on Monday.

With just over two weeks to go until Election Day, President Bush had the day off in Washington. Bush was in Florida on Saturday. The state's 27 electoral votes likely will be key to who wins the Nov. 2 election.

New polls over the weekend showed the race between Kerry and Bush to be very close, though Bush appeared to have a slight edge among likely voters. In key battleground states, however, the surveys suggested Kerry had a significant lead. A new Washington Post poll found Kerry held a 53 percent to 43 percent advantage among likely voters in 13 such states.

"I think those have been breaking for us over the last few weeks since the start of the first debate. So we feel good where we are," Kerry campaign adviser Joe Lockhart said on "Fox News Sunday."

But in Florida, the state won by Bush by 537 votes in 2000 after a bitter ballot recount dispute, the Post poll released on Saturday showed Kerry and Bush tied among likely voters, with 48 percent each and independent Ralph Nader at 1 percent. Nader's statewide percentage was slightly less than what he received four years ago, probably costing Democrat Al Gore the state.

Though Gore won the popular vote in the country, a 36-day recount effort in Florida was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court, awarding the electoral college votes and the election to Bush.

This year, Florida already has had legal skirmishes, with challenges lodged about the purging of a high percentage of black felons from voter lists, requests for a paper confirmation of touch-screen voting, and whether voters who show up at the wrong polling place will receive a ballot.

Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said the state had made changes.

"We have done everything we can to make sure that people have access to register to vote and that we've made it easy for people to vote. Starting Monday, people will have the chance to vote early," Jeb Bush said on ABC's "This Week."

Addressing a rally in Pembroke Pines, Florida, Kerry referred to the recount fiasco four years ago. "You go vote," he said. "We're going to make sure your vote is counted."

He pledged, "I will never privatize Social Security, I will never cut benefits, and I will never raise the retirement age." Florida is home to a large community of retirees who rely heavily on Social Security.

Speaking earlier in Columbus, Ohio, Kerry said Bush had a "big January surprise" for the government retirement plan, one that could reduce benefits by $500 a month for many Americans.

"We just learned yesterday that the president told his biggest and wealthiest donors about his big 'January surprise,"' Kerry told a black congregation, seizing on remarks by Bush reported in The New York Times Magazine that if re-elected, he would "come out strong after my swearing in with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security."

A new Kerry campaign ad claimed it would cost $2 trillion and mean a 45 percent cut in benefits.

Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot said, "That's absolutely preposterous. What the president is talking about and has talked about from the moment he ran in 2000 is allowing younger people, younger workers to own a portion of their Social Security and invest it and make decisions."

A spate of newspapers announced endorsements on Sunday, with The New York Times supporting Kerry, citing his wide knowledge and clear thinking. The Chicago Tribune backed Bush, noting what it called his resoluteness in fighting the war on terror.

Nader told CNN's "Late Edition" he had no plans to withdraw from the race.



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