WASHINGTON, Sunday - The race for the White House was wide open late Sunday as it headed down to the wire with President George W. Bush and his rival John Kerry (above) scrambling for decisive votes in Florida and the Midwest.
Polls gave Bush a slight lead nationwide but the battle for the all-important electoral votes awarded in separate state contests stayed clouded in a jumble of contradictory data and political spin by both sides.
The surveys ahead of tomorrowâ€™s election pointed to a photo finish to rival the 2000 contest, with the possibility a candidate could lose the popular vote and win the presidency for the second straight time.
Bush enjoyed a statistically insignificant lead of one to two points in the latest surveys released by the Washington Post, Fox News, and the Rasmussen and TIPP polling organisations.
Newsweek gave the Republican a six-point margin at 50-44%. The American Research Group had the race tied at 48%. Zogby had the Democratic challenger up by a point.
Despite his marginal lead, the flurry of data had some worrying signs for the president. Except for the Newsweek poll, he failed to reach 50% and appeared stuck at 46 to 49%, which analysts said could spell trouble for him.
The figures suggested that some of Bushâ€™s support might be soft as the bitter campaign lurched to a climax.
The Fox News poll showed that 12% of voters preparing to cast their ballots for Bush said they could change their mind before tomorrow, while only six percent of Kerry backers felt so.
The polls also put the number of undecided voters at anywhere from two to nine percent.
Conventional wisdom holds that they usually break against the incumbent at the end.
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told reporters on Saturday the election was still up for grabs. â€œWeâ€™re looking at a remarkably stable race, a dead heat race.â€
The numbers were even hazier on the state level where both sides fought to piece together a majority of the 538 electoral votes that decide the presidency and are awarded in separate, mostly winner-take-all, contests.
Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 but beat Democrat Al Gore in the Electoral College 271-266.
This year he appeared to have 25 states with 213 electors nailed down while Kerry had 14 states and the federal district for 190 electors.
Bush, Kerry in election deadlock