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Oregon no longer a battleground.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - Thanks for the memories, George and Dick, John and John.

We'll miss you, Laura and Teresa. And all of you movie stars, rock singers and other surrogates who spent months traveling to Oregon trying to get us to vote for either George Bush or John Kerry, along with their running mates, Dick Cheney and John Edwards.

Those visits have come to a halt, along with a drop in the volume of television ads trying to influence Oregonians' vote in the presidential election.

With less than a week to go in the race, the candidates' and the political world's attention are focused on the tossup states with the richest caches of Electoral College votes: Florida, Pennsylvania, along with a handful of upper Midwest and East Coast states, and Hawaii.

Oregon has fallen off the map of battleground states, as several polls have shown the Democratic ticket of Kerry-Edwards likely to prevail when voting ends and counting begins on Tuesday.

"It seems pretty clear to me that Oregon is going to Kerry," said Bill Lunch, chairman of Oregon State University's political science department.

When the Kerry vs. Bush match-up came into focus last spring, political experts and party leaders agreed that about 32 states locked up for either the Republican president or the Democratic challenger. That left 18 or so battleground states - including Oregon - to decide the winner.

These days, that list is down to fewer than a dozen; The New York Times has whittled it down to 11, NBC News has reduced the number to nine, and the online news site has dropped to six the number of states it considers "iffy" for Bush or Kerry.

The analysis is based largely on polls in the battleground states it's been watching. And in the Wednesday edition of its "Election Scorecard," it declared Oregon as "Kerry safe" based on three early October polls showing Kerry with leads of 5-, 6- and 9-percentage points over Bush.

Lunch said those polls, along with his gut feeling based on conversations with other Oregon voters, gave him the sense about two weeks ago that Oregon's seven electoral votes would go to Kerry.

Tim Hibbitts, an independent pollster in Portland, said he sensed that Oregon was falling into Kerry's win column immediately after the first presidential debate, which took place on Sept. 30.

"We had it very close up to that first debate," Hibbitts said. "I think the debate shifted Oregon back toward Kerry."

He stopped short of calling Oregon a lock for Kerry, but said the Democrat has an 80 percent to 90 percent likelihood of carrying the state on Tuesday.

Hibbitts said the campaigns appear to share that interpretation of the polls. They ramped down TV advertising somewhat and stopped sending the candidates - and even their surrogates, including spouses, relatives and celebrities - in mid-October.

But Oregon campaigners for the two candidates aren't about to call the race over yet.

"What's driving people to get out and support John Kerry is not whether we are being called a battleground state, but people's personal desire to change the direction of our nation," said Lisa Sohn, spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign in Oregon.

Bob Avery, the Republican Party chairman in Lane County and a Bush supporter, said he thinks the polls remain close enough, and the influence of newly registered voters unpredictable enough that the president's campaigners aren't discouraged by the growing number of national media outlets declaring Oregon a Kerry state.

Avery said the direction Oregon ends up going is yet to be determined, and will depend on which side does the best job of getting its voters to submit ballots.

"We think it's going to be up to the ground game," Avery said. "And we've got a great one in place, one like we've never had before in Oregon."
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Title Annotation:Politics; The candidates turn their attention to the remaining tossup states with the most electoral votes, including Hawaii
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 28, 2004
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