Editor's note: This is the fourth in a weekly series of polling updates on the Nov. 2 presidential election.

John Kerry just had a big week, retaking narrow leads in the two crucial states of Florida and Ohio – for an overall electoral vote lead of 94. If the election were held today, Kerry would win because he now leads in former Bush states Florida, Ohio, Nevada and New Hampshire, while the prez leads in no former Gore states, and every other state is likely to vote as it did in 2000.

The race is close, however, because eight Kerry states are within most polls' 4 percent margin of error, while only Bush's Missouri, Arkansas, Virginia and North Carolina – with 45 electoral votes – are as vulnerable.

For the second week running, Kerry improved in more states (16) than Bush did (12) – and his prospects rose in more states that matter. Kerry's fortunes waxed in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Arkansas and Arizona, while Bush gained ground only in bellwethers Michigan, New Hampshire, Oregon, Minnesota and Iowa.

Kerry had huge improvements in Indiana (plus 15 percent), South Dakota (10 percent), Georgia (9 percent), Alabama (8.5 percent) and Oklahoma (7 percent) – but those Bush bastions are unlikely to change sides. Simultaneously, the guy who traded away Sammy Sosa made too-small-to-matter gains in safe Kerry states New York, California and New Jersey, and slightly improved in his own shaky state of Colorado. As of Oct. 18, Kerry is besting former Dem standard-bearer Al Gore in 27 states while Bush is looking better than he did in 2000 in 22 others.

Florida moved Kerry-ward in three polls. Insider Advantage saw a seven-point Oct. 14 to Oct. 16 Sunshine State swing from Bush up 3 percent to Kerry up 4 percent. Rasmussen (a Republican) noted that Bush's Florida lead dropped from 4 percent on Oct. 11 to 1 percent a week later. And Survey U.S.A. saw a six-point swing over the past two weeks – from Bush up 5 percent to Kerry up 1 percent.

There was a huge change in the Senatorial standings last week. Previously safe Kentucky Republican senator (and former baseball star) Jim Bunning had a series of screw-ups and mental meltdowns that resulted in him completely urinating away his 19 percent polling lead. So the Bluegrass State is now a surprise possible Democratic pickup, along with Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma and Alaska. Georgia (with the GOP up 8 percent) is likely to slip from Democratic control, and Republicans have a three-point lead in South Carolina and a 2 percent edge in North Carolina. Florida and South Dakota are exactly tied and Louisiana is a weird case that should stay in the donkey stable. There is a real chance for Democrats to regain control of the Senate.

The national popular polls remain very close, although Kerry has improved in all of them. Newsweek finds Kerry leading by 21 percent among first-time voters and by 9 percent among independent voters and early voters.

Ralph Nader is unlikely to have much impact on the results. He is off 16 ballots and is polling about 1 percent in most of the other 34 states.

More by Alan Waldman


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