BOSTON - Strategists for John Kerry don't expect much of a post-convention bump in the polls, but they said yesterday they are enthusiastic with numbers showing the Democratic nominee with a narrow lead even before the convention began.
"Going back the last 50 years, there's only one other challenger to an elected incumbent who's gone into a convention ahead of the elected incumbent,'' said senior strategist Mark Mellman.
"That was Ronald Reagan, who went into his  convention three points ahead of Jimmy Carter," Mr. Mellman said.
"On the other end of the convention, there have been only three challengers who have come out of their conventions ahead of the incumbent presidents and all three of those challengers have gone on to win,'' he said.
Mr. Kerry had an average of a 2-point lead in major polls going into the current convention, showing the race remains a statistical toss-up three months before the Nov. 2 election.
The road to the White House must go through Ohio, said Jim Ruvolo, a political adviser from Toledo and Mr. Kerry's Ohio campaign chairman. George W. Bush carried the state by less than 4 percentage points in 2000 over then-Vice President Al Gore.
"We sometimes feel like it's ground zero,'' he said. "We know that if we deny Republicans Ohio, George Bush cannot get to 270 [electoral votes]. ... If I had my druthers, the election would be tomorrow.''
Mr. Kerry's team outlined a strategy to carry key battleground areas - mostly industrial states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania - that involves stressing that stronger job-creation and corporate-profit numbers have not translated into tangible improvements on the assembly line.
Mr. Gore carried both Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2000.
Donnie Fowler, Mr. Kerry's man in Michigan, said the party organization is three months ahead of schedule.
In prior years, the organization was usually not in place until after the convention.
Mr. Ruvolo also said Mr. Kerry is in it for the long haul in Ohio, unlike Mr. Gore, who virtually wrote off the state in the final weeks before the election to concentrate on Florida.
"I was present for the conversation when [former senator and astronaut] John Glenn agreed to endorse John Kerry prior to the primaries, something he had never done,'' he said.
"He only did it under the condition that John Kerry gave him his word that they would not leave Ohio. ... Republicans cannot win if they don't win Ohio. We know that. They know that. Nobody's leaving."
Speaking on the convention floor, Mr. Glenn criticized the Bush administration for under-emphasizing education and scientific research.
"I am concerned about the erosion of America's commitment to the twin pillars of our success in the 20th century - leadership in education and leadership in scientific research,'' Mr. Glenn said.
"A commitment to leadership in education and research underpinned America's rise to greatness over the past 100 years,'' he said.
"Unfortunately, under the current administration, the bedrock American commitment to leadership in education and research has eroded. Other countries are fast gaining ground on us," Mr. Glenn said.
Two other Ohioans appeared before the full convention yesterday.
Toledo native and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman delivered one of the nominating speeches for Mr. Kerry, dedicating the speech to his son, a Marine receiving training in Israel, as well as those serving in Iraq.
Cleveland Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who pulled out of the presidential race last week, urged his left-leaning followers to unite behind Mr. Kerry.
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