The two top presidential contenders will be stumping in Arizona this week with events aimed at firing up their supporters. But the campaign stops probably will not sway many of the undecided voters who could determine the close election, according to professional political observers.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Democratic presidential nominee, will make a swing today and Monday through northern Arizona. President Bush, a Republican, has scheduled a campaign stop Wednesday evening in the Valley.
The Arizona trips are a good chance for both candidates to solidify their bases of support and get good news coverage in a state where polls show a close race, said Jim Haynes, president of the Behavior Research Center, a Phoenix polling firm. But neither candidate can expect much of a bounce in the state from the appearances, he said.
"The main function of those things is to give the appearance of working hard, of taking the election seriously, of solidifying their existing base, and of touching palms with as many human beings as possible to make sure they get out the vote," Haynes said. "I think it’s more a function of getting the vote out than it is of moving voters around."
Kerry’s main event will be a rally tonight in Flagstaff. On Monday, he will take a side trip to the Grand Canyon, then wrap up his Arizona tour in Kingman in the early evening before boarding a bus for Las Vegas.
Bush will speak at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.
Half a dozen Arizona polls taken since June show a tight race, with most giving Bush a lead that varies from a few percentage points to about a dozen. What is consistent is that Bush and Kerry have largely secured their base of support, but neither has gained much ground among undecided voters, said Bruce Merrill, a Valley pollster and communications professor at Arizona State University.
The undecided vote typically runs about 10 percent to 15 percent, Merrill said. There is some chance that either could pick up a few percentage points with a good performance in three upcoming debates, including one in October at Arizona State University in Tempe, Merrill said. But those who say they haven’t made up their minds as Election Day nears will probably not vote, he said.
"What it gets down to is who can get their people out to the polls on Election Day," said Merrill, adding that Republicans have historically done a better job of that. "What this is all about in battleground states like Arizona is really more hanging on to or energizing your base vote. That’s probably more important than that you are actually going to change anybody’s mind."
Sue Walitsky, spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign in Arizona, said Kerry’s swing through the state is part of a 3,500-mile trek through 21 states that began after the Democratic National Convention last month in Boston. While she agreed that rallies "are great to energize your base," she said Kerry does hope to attract new supporters on his swing through Arizona.
"It is an opportunity for people to listen to the candidates, to hear what they have to say firsthand," Walitsky said.
Danny Diaz, spokesman for the Bush campaign in Arizona, said the president is also hoping his trip will sway undecided voters. The Bush campaign is continuing an advertising blitz in Arizona and recently released two new ads here, including one in Spanish, Diaz said.
"This campaign recognizes that Arizona is an important state," Diaz said. "We know it’s going to be an extremely close election and we can’t take any votes for granted. So we’re going to continue to work on the blocking and tackling of politics here in Arizona, recruit volunteers and get the president’s message out and mobilize his vote."
Kerry’s campaign is not running any ads this month, either in Arizona or nationally. A quirk in federal campaign finance laws gives Bush a financial advantage in August. Both candidates are taking public funds for the general election. Once a candidate accepts his party’s nomination, he can no longer spend privately raised money.
When Kerry accepted his party’s nomination July 29 at the Democratic convention, he had to stop using private campaign funds. Bush accepts his party’s nomination Sept. 2 at the Republican convention, meaning that he can continue spending his privately raised funds until then.
Bush had about $64 million in cash on hand July 20.
Each candidate will get about $75 million in public financing to run their campaigns through November.
• Today: Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry boards a train that will travel through northern Arizona. He will finish the day with a rally at 9:15 p.m. in downtown Flagstaff. Tickets are being distributed by the Coconino County and Arizona Democratic parties. For ticket information, call Coconino County Democratic headquarters at (928) 214-0393 or visit www.johnkerry.com/arizona.
• Monday: Kerry’s campaign swing continues to the Grand Canyon, where he will greet park visitors and have a picnic from late morning until about 2 p.m. The Arizona tour will end with a gathering beginning at 6 p.m. at the train station in Kingman.
• Wednesday: At 6 p.m., President Bush will be at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. For ticket information, call the Arizona Republican Party at (602) 957-7770 or the Bush-Cheney campaign at (866) 642-2874.