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Russert: Pa. a key state for candidates

September 21, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Like Florida in 2000, Pennsylvania figures to live up to its nickname as the Keystone State in this presidential election, Tim Russert told the audience Monday night at Shippensburg University.

"Whoever wins two of the three, Florida, Pennsylvania or Ohio, will be the next president of the United States," the host of NBC's "Meet the Press" told a large crowd in Heiges Field House. As of Monday, Russert said Bush holds slight leads in Ohio and Florida and "our latest tracking poll has John Kerry ahead by one point in Pennsylvania."

"All eyes are on Pennsylvania," said Russert, adding that 32 states "will never see a candidate. Those states are locked." All the candidates' efforts will be concentrated in the 18 so-called battleground states "and John Kerry is only advertising in 13."

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Russert drew a couple of scenarios for the election:

· If Bush wins the same states he won in 2000, he would increase his number of electoral votes from 271 to 278 because of the shift in representation resulting from the 2000 census.

· If Kerry takes the same states Al Gore won four years ago, plus New Hampshire and West Virginia, Russert said the election would be tied in the Electoral College, throwing the decision on who will be president to the U.S. House of Representatives.

While the 2000 election tested the American political system, Russert said the outcome was something that could not be expected in many other countries

"People used to laugh and say 'My vote doesn't count.' Remember 2000? It does count," Russert said. "Whoever wins Pennsylvania will do so by a handful of votes."

"As a journalist covering the presidential race in 2004, I think it is imperative that this race be about big issues," Russert said. He criticized both campaigns for not addressing the specifics of what they would do regarding the war on terrorism, and the future of Social Security and Medicare as the baby boomer generation approaches retirement.

"The one thing we have found out through history ... is that the president does make tough decisions unless they are challenged by tough questions," Russert said. He said the candidates fear coming out of "their own political wombs" and confronting those issues because of the risk it poses.

That will change Sept. 30 in Florida, when the first of three debates is held, according to Russert. There will be separate debates on foreign and domestic policy and a third town hall-style debate, he said.

"What the American people want are the views of the people running for president," said Russert. With more than 1,000 troops killed, another 7,000 injured, 135,000 in Iraq and an American contractor beheaded there Monday, Russert said Iraq has to be the top issue.

"This is real life. Real life and death and it must be discussed in this democracy," Russert said. Bush must detail his plans for after the election and Kerry has to define what he would do differently, he said.

The cost of the war on terrorism, about $200 billion, he said, "is going to have a profound effect on all other areas of our government," Russert said.

"You all know at your kitchen tables, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, that something has to give. If you reduce the amount of money coming into your household and increase your expenditures, something's got to give," Russert said.

The number of people on Social Security and Medicare will double from 40 million to 80 million in the next 15 years, which will mean tough decisions have to be made at some point about national security and domestic programs.

"It's a candy store," he said of the promises Bush and Kerry have made on tax cuts and spending on new programs.

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