Decision day

MILWAUKEE – President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry raced through a frenzied last day of campaigning Monday, pressing hard for support in Ohio, Wisconsin and other narrowly divided states in a presidential election still too close to call.

Squeezing every dwindling hour for campaigning, Bush laid on a six-state, seven-stop tour stretching from early morning into late night, mostly in the Midwest. Kerry was working the heartland for a final time, too, after a morning stop in Florida, scene of the disputed 2000 vote that gave Bush the presidency.

At an airport rally in Ohio, where more than 200,000 jobs have been lost in the past four years, Bush said, “I know the economy of this state has been through a lot, but we are moving in the right direction.”

“We have to keep your taxes low and I want you to remind your friends and neighbors that my opponent will raise the taxes on Ohio’s families and Ohio’s small businesses,” Bush asserted.

Seemingly upbeat, Bush greeted supporters in Milwaukee a few hours later: “I want to thank all the cheeseheads who are here.”

Kerry, saying he felt “fabulous,” headed for Milwaukee, too, a state Al Gore won in 2000 and the Democrats cannot afford to lose this year.

Earlier, in Orlando, Kerry told supporters, “This is the moment of accountability for America. It’s the moment where the world is watching what you’re going to do.”

He started the day by attending All Saints Day mass. Schoolgirls at St. John Vianney Catholic School squealed when he shook their hands through schoolroom windows.

Both sides had get-out-the-vote armies primed for action, plus lawyers deployed across the country ready to throw any photo finish into court at the first sign of polling-place irregularities.

“I expect this election is going to be decided Tuesday night,” Kerry told the Associated Press on Sunday, “but, given experience, I would be irresponsible if I wasn’t prepared to be able to protect every person’s right to vote.”

In an interview broadcast Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Kerry predicted “a record turnout” and said he believed “Americans are determined not to see a repeat of 2000.” Bush won the presidency in 2000 in a postelection tangle broken when the Supreme Court stopped a Florida recount.

Bush said it was vital to see a clear winner emerge election night, especially considering how closely the process is being watched around the world.

“We’ll see how it goes Tuesday night but I really think it’s important not to have a world of lawsuits that stop the will of the people from going forward,” the president told “Dateline NBC.”

The long, bruising campaign was finally ending, surely not a moment too soon for the combatants. Kerry occasionally coughed during his speech at a Tampa, Fla., rally Sunday night, which in the past has been an early sign of losing his voice.

Bush stocked up on lozenges and cut down or eliminated caffeine, which constricts the vocal cords, said adviser Karl Rove, who figured the president’s voice would be hoarse in another day anyway. Asked what Bush is doing to save his voice, Rove cracked, “Just chewing on me less every day.”

Bush pitched his case for continuity in the war on terrorism before tens of thousands filling the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati on Sunday night, the fifth consecutive day he campaigned in Ohio.

Sunday night, with U.S. and Iraqi forces preparing for an onslaught against the insurgent stronghold in Fallujah, Bush offered this explanation for the bloody run-up to Iraqi elections at the end of January: “Iraq is a dangerous place today because Iraq is moving toward freedom.”

The Democrat summed up his case before a crowd of thousands Sunday night in a Tampa park, the city’s high-rise buildings as backdrop.

“This is the moment to hold George Bush accountable for the deficits, for the loss of health care, for the loss of jobs, for the loss of America’s influence and respect in the world,” he said. “This is the moment to restore our hopes and dreams and bring back the vision of this country.”

Kerry told the AP that if elected he would quickly name a Cabinet and begin a “flurry of activity” to heighten the country’s security. “I’m going to make America safer and I have some very strong and real steps to take quite immediately to make that happen,” Kerry said.

New polls told a now-familiar story — it’s neck and neck in battleground after battleground.

A strong majority in a Pew Research Center survey indicated this election is especially important, a result that could presage a high turnout. 84 percent said so, compared with only 67 percent in 2000 and 61 percent in 1996.

Bush was stumping in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico on Monday before a final home-state rally in Dallas.

Kerry was campaigning in Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan on the campaign’s last day before returning home to Massachusetts.

Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, campaigned in Minnesota, saying, “The American dream is on the ballot.” Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing in Colorado, said, “If you want my opinion, John Kerry’s goose is cooked.”