PHILADELPHIA — As the Bush campaign sees it, the battleground for the Oval Office just keeps getting bigger.
Karl Rove, the boyish-looking manager of the Texas governor's first presidential bid, is exuding nothing but confidence here in Philadelphia, rattling off some of the 20 or more states that, having voted Democratic in the recent past, are now in play - from Washington to Vermont.
This "embarrassment of opportunities," he said at a Monitor breakfast meeting here yesterday, has expanded the "battleground" states far beyond the Midwestern industrial corridor long expected to decide the race.
"Bush has positives that outweigh his negatives by 30 points," Mr. Rove said.
But he was quick to apologize if he "sounded overly confident," noting that by Labor Day the contest with Vice President Al Gore could go into single digits. Mr. Bush could even be trailing by then.
Indeed, the Republican soon-to-be-nominee is currently ahead in many states by very small margins. That makes Bush vulnerable, says political analyst Charles Cook, and a good performance at Thursday's acceptance speech and the later debates will be crucial. "People are sort of leaning their way, but they haven't closed the sale," says Mr. Cook.
Analysts point to Michael Dukakis's strong lead heading into the 1988 Democratic convention, which quickly evaporated afterward.
Rove insists there are no parallels today, noting Mr. Dukakis was an ideological liberal who failed to respond to attacks on that basis.
But Democrats have been highlighting the conservative record of vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney, and working to tie Bush to the far right by association.
Still, political analysts say the race could boil down to the simple perception of competence. If push comes to shove, Cook says, people will vote for Mr. Gore if they don't think Bush is big "enough to fill the chair or do the job."
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