Former US president Bill Clinton on Monday emerged from convalescence in an effort to boost Democratic spirits and lift voter turnout in the final week of the election campaign, as John Kerry and President George W. Bush called in political favours to get an edge in a tied race.

A Los Angeles Times nationwide poll of registered voters conducted October 21-24, which was made available to the Financial Times, showed Mr Kerry and Mr Bush each winning 48 per cent of the vote. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The poll indicated that the electorate had hardened its support around the two candidates, leaving very few swing voters still to be persuaded.

The survey showed 95 per cent of voters had made up their minds, while only 5 per cent said they could still decide to vote for someone else.

The poll showed that neither Mr Bush nor Mr Kerry had developed a decisive edge in the public's mind, either on issues of character and leadership or on how they would handle the economic and foreign policy challenges facing the US.

One small boost for Mr Kerry may be figures showing that just 43 per cent of the voters think Mr Bush is leading the country in the right direction, while 55 per cent say the country is worse off under his leadership and needs a new direction.

Mr Bush's 53-to-37 lead on which candidate would better keep the US safe from terrorists remains his strongest suit, while Mr Kerry enjoys an 11-point lead on both jobs and health care.

On Monday, less than two months since heart surgery, a slim Mr Clinton joined Mr Kerry before a fever-pitch crowd of tens of thousands of people in Philadelphia: “If this isn't good for my heart, I don't know what is,” the former president said to thunderous applause. On the stump in Colorado, Mr Bush turned to a Republican with a celebrity of his own Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor as he appealed for votes. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood actor and now governor of California, will be campaigning for Mr Bush in Ohio this week.

Mr Clinton sought to highlight the stark differences in political philosophy between Mr Kerry and Mr Bush.

“We don't want our children and our grandchildren paying for the costs of the tax cuts,” he said, charging the Bush administration with rising deficits and cutting taxes for the wealthy. Mr Clinton headed to Florida after the Philadelphia rally to drum up support, while Mr Kerry continued on through midwestern states.

On Wednesday, in Wisconsin, Mr Kerry will deliver the sixth and final of his policy addresses, concentrating on security at home, designed to make what his aides call “the closing arguments” of the campaign.

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