John Kerry has a problem. With leads in current polling in the Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Kerry has a shot two win without winning Florida.
But if that polling holds, and Bush wins Florida, then three states--currently polling at dead heats--will tell the tale. Whoever wins two of 'em will win it all. Those states are Iowa (47/47), New Hampshire (47/47) and New Jersey (46/46).
New Jersey and Iowa are big problems for Kerry. New Jersey may be the biggest problem of all. The northern part of the state is full of upper middle-class suburban voters who are center-left socially but who think Kerry is soft on terrorism, voters like Jeff Jarvis. Also, the nation's wealthiest state is densely populated by the C-level managers and small businessmen who are among the Republicans most loyal bases. There is also a big base of Wall Street employees who stand to benefit from the flood of money into the markets that will come with the privatization of social security. Then there's McGreevey's implosion. While it may not be having a profound impact on Kerry's numbers, it has taken away what would have been Kerry's number one surrogate campaigner in the state. (I bet the Dems wish they had Corzine on the ballot in a special election now!) Kerry needs to do something quick in New Jersey because he can't win the presidency without winning New Jersey. (Theoretically he could, if he took Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, but c'mon!).
But I'm not sure what Kerry can achieve. My guess is that his biggest problem is a loss of traditional support among upper middle-class women from the northern suburbs. Not so much the soccer moms, more the corporate wives. There's little Kerry can say to them at this point that be a difference maker. Still, at least he should show up in New Jersey. Spend a day. Show the Jerseyites some love. Maybe it helps get out the vote.
Iowa I don't know at all. I passed through Des Moines once for a hour or so. I know its gone Democratic for the last 4 elections, even handing a win to Michael Dukakis. I know that folks credit Kerry's strong ground team in the state for the primary win there that catapulted him to the nomination. Iowa's another one Kerry needs.
New Hampshire has such a small, volatile electorate split between extremes of right and left that it is almost impossible to predict the outcome there. But, at the risk of sounding like Vin Scully, it's interesting to note that New Hampshire has gone for the winner in each of the last four presidential elections: Bush-Clinton-Clinton-Bush. The winner here will probably be the overall winner again.
To win it all Kerry needs New Jersey plus at least one of the other two.