Monday's poll indicates N.H. vote still dead heat

by From staff and wire reports | 11/2/04 6:00am

A poll released in New Hampshire Monday shows Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and President Bush locked in a near dead heat as voters head to the polls.

The final tracking poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire for WMUR-TV, had Kerry picking up 49 percent and Bush 48 percent.

One percent said they would vote for another candidate, including Ralph Nader, and 1 percent were undecided.

Both Bush and Kerry picked up one percentage point since the poll surveyed likely voters by telephone Sunday, while the number of undecided and third-party voters each dropped one percentage point.

The poll's results indicate that New Hampshire's four electoral votes could again prove decisive this year. Had Al Gore won New Hampshire in 2000, he would have won the election overall.

New Hampshire was among a small number of states where Nader was considered a serious factor Tuesday. Four years ago, George W. Bush beat Gore by 7,211 votes, one-third of Nader's total in the state, to gain the state's four electoral votes.

Democrats in New Hampshire had fought unsuccessfully to keep Nader off the ballot. They accused Republicans of using unfair and even illegal tactics to get his name there, but challenges to Nader petitions failed nonetheless.

Late registrations and requests for absentee ballots surged and the secretary of state predicted a record 600,000 votes would be cast, up from 578,656 in 2000. Ten percent of the vote could come from people who register today.

As of September, independents comprised 38 percent of total registration compared to 34 percent for Republicans and 28 percent for Democrats. Analysts say New Hampshire independents typically lean conservative. The state has backed just four Democratic presidential candidates in the past century.

On the other hand, late-decision voters often pick the challenger.

The telephone poll of 986 likely voters was conducted Thursday through Sunday. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points, making the race too close to call.

The race between Republican Gov. Craig Benson and Democratic challenger John Lynch was equally close, with Benson picking up 47 percent and Lynch 46 percent. Benson gained two percentage points and Lynch lost one percentage point compared to results released Sunday. Lynch has made ethics the focus of his campaign, repeatedly citing Benson appointees who were forced to step down amid allegations of wrongdoing or conflicts of interest. Benson, on the other hand, attacked relentlessly on the sensitive topic of taxes.

The poll continued to show comfortable leads for the Republican incumbents in races for Congress: Sen. Judd Gregg and representatives Jeb Bradley and Charles Bass '74. Bass, who represents Hanover and the rest of New Hampshire's Second District, is running against Democratic challenger Paul Hodes '72.

In the race for local elections, Republicans Jesse Roisin '05 and Katie Racicot '06, along with general contractor Tom Toner of Lyme, are running for the New Hampshire State House from Hanover and Lyme's four-seat representative district.

The Democrats running for the State House from New Hampshire's Ninth District are state representatives Bernie Benn, Sharon Nordgren, Hilda Sokol and Ruth Bleyler.