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Bush and Kerry face verdict of voters
Updated: 2004-11-02 19:16

President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry face the verdict of American voters on Tuesday when a long, close and bitter race for the White House reaches an unpredictable end.

Members of the Bush and Kerry campaigns rally in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, November 1, 2004. President Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry battled to an unpredictable finish on Monday, racing through a handful of crucial swing states to hunt for the votes that could break open a deadlocked White House race. [AP]
Up to 125 million Americans will cast votes to choose the leader of the United States for the next four years and set the country's course on the Iraq war, the fight against terrorism, the economy and foreign relations.

Polls show the race is extraordinarily close, with a flurry of surveys showing a dead heat nationally and contradictory polls indicating most of the 10 hardest fought battleground states could tip either way.

Bush and Kerry spent their final day on the campaign trail on Monday racing back and forth through a handful of crucial swing states in a last-ditch hunt for votes, as both men try to stitch together the 270 electoral votes needed to claim victory.

A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry wears a cheese shaped hat during a rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Americans started voting in one of the tightest presidential elections in decades after a long and often bitter campaign between Republican incumbent George W. Bush and his Democratic rival John Kerry. [AFP]
"The world is watching what you're going to do. All of the hopes and dreams of our country are on the line today," Kerry told supporters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the campaign ticked down to its final hours.

With turnout likely to decide the outcome, both campaigns invested millions of dollars in sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts to get supporters to the polls. A variety of independent anti-Bush groups and Democratic allies like labor unions also helped Kerry's ground game.

The voting on Tuesday concludes an extraordinarily close and contentious campaign focused on Iraq and national security, with Bush defending his doctrine of pre-emptive war and criticizing the Massachusetts senator as too liberal, too inconsistent and too weak to lead.

Kerry countered by challenging Bush's "go-it-alone" international approach, his decision to go to war in Iraq without enough allied backing and his refusal to acknowledge his mistakes and correct them.

Both candidates hammered home their themes down the stretch, with Bush criticizing Kerry for weakness on national security and vowing to be a strong leader in the fight against terrorism.

"We are relentless, we are steadfast, we are determined to protect the American people. We're staying on the offensive," Bush said in Sioux City, Iowa. "We are fighting the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face here them at home."


Kerry said voters had a choice between four more years of the same "failed" economic and foreign policies or a fresh start.

"This is your chance to hold George Bush accountable for the last four years ... the hopes of the whole world are on the line tomorrow," Kerry said.

Both candidates planned to pack in a final campaign stop even as Americans vote on Tuesday. Kerry was due to pitch in on voter turnout efforts in Wisconsin before heading home to Boston to vote and await results.

Bush will vote at home in Crawford, Texas, then make a stop in Ohio before returning to Washington.

The election shapes up to be historically close and to perhaps rival the disputed campaign of 2000, when Bush narrowly lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore but won the Electoral College after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped a vote recount in Florida.

The spotlight on Tuesday will be on Florida again, along with the new showdown state of Ohio, both won narrowly by Bush in 2000 and now the biggest remaining toss-up states.

Kerry must win at least one of those two states to have a realistic shot at victory, while a Bush loss in Florida would leave him in danger unless he could steal Pennsylvania or some Midwestern states like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa -- all won by Gore in 2000.

A Reuters/Zogby poll of 10 battleground states found Kerry trailing Bush in Ohio by six percentage points and both candidates in a tie in Florida at 48 percent each. Kerry led in six states, all won by Gore in 2000. To claim the White House, he will have to win some states taken by Bush in 2000.

More than 5 million Americans already have voted nationwide in states that allow early voting, and voting lines were long in the swing state of Florida again on Monday. Kerry aides, tracking party registration among early voters, said Democrats were outperforming Republicans.

Polls found many American were not confident their vote would be recorded properly, and expected legal challenges and ballot disputes similar to 2000.

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