A Florida tradition continues

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Say it isn't so.

As many as 58,000 absentee ballots may never have reached the Florida voters who asked for them.

The missing ballots are the latest sign that the Sunshine State which Al Gore lost to George W. Bush four years ago by just 537 votes in a messy, messy contested election may again be at the centre of some Election Day madness.

Elections officials in Fort Lauderdale have been flooded with telephone calls from voters who said their ballots have not yet arrived. They blamed the US Postal Service, but postal officials insisted on Wednesday that the mix-up wasn't their fault.

State police are investigating.

The endorsement that George Bild

In Germany, newspapers rarely publish endorsements, even for German elections.

But Bild, a German tabloid newspaper and the country's biggest selling daily it has a 3.9m circulation broke with tradition by endorsing Mr Bush, against the grain of Germany's general mood.

Bild argued that “with Bush we know what we are getting”.

Its 10 reasons listed under the banner headline “Why Bush is the better president” include his “tough military stance” in the war on terrorism, and his recognition that Germany will not send troops to Iraq.

John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, would ask for such troops, Bild said, “thereby worsening already strained US-German relations”.

According to a poll published yesterday, 59 per cent of Germans expect Mr Kerry to win on Tuesday, compared with 31 per cent for Mr Bush.

In Hawaii, it's Five-0/Five-0

The fierce battle for votes in the continental United States may have seemed distant to Hawaiians, who live several time zones away from most states.

But a political storm may soon hit their tropical paradise.

Hawaii, which joined the union in 1959, has long been a Democratic stronghold and voted Republican in presidential elections only twice: for Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984.

But two recent polls show Mr Bush and Mr Kerry nearly tied in the state.

In a poll of 600 likely voters conducted by the Honolulu Advertiser, 43.3 per cent picked Mr Bush and 42.6 backed Mr Kerry, while 12 per cent were undecided. Another poll of 612 registered voters by SMS Research put Mr Bush ahead with 46 per cent to Mr Kerry's 45 per cent, with

9 per cent of voters undecided.

In the closing days of the 2000 election, Mr Bush appeared to close the gap in the state with Al Gore, but the Democratic candidate ultimately carried Hawaii, winning a hefty 56 per cent. But in the face of the startling numbers, Democrats have decided to spend some money on television and radio advertisements. In one of the most closely contested elections in recent memory, no one can take Hawaii's four electoral votes for granted.

Bush's version of ‘World' Wide Web

Mr Bush's official campaign site, www.georgewbush.com, shows its visitors how to make a contribution to the Republican party and features interactive games such as the “John Kerry Flip Flop Olympics”.

But the president's supporters outside the US appear to risk missing out on this information. International visitors to the site have been greeted lately by a “Forbidden” message, according to Netcraft, a web research firm.

“Our monitors overseas show that visitors outside the US are largely unable to access the site,” says Rich Miller, a Netcraft analyst. Mr Miller says the campaign could be blocking international visitors to save on network costs.

This could be a dangerous tactic if absentee votes end up playing an important role as they did in 2000.

Mr Kerry's website, www.johnkerry.com, seems to be working fine internationally and not just in Old Europe.

Campaign moves into top gear

Last week 24 Olympians and professional athletes including Mary Lou Retton, the gold-medal gymnast, and Jack Nicklaus, the golf legend announced their support for George W. Mr Bush.

That may be good enough to sway some voters but it may not help with that highly coveted demographic, the “Nascar dad”. Enter Ryan Newman, a top driver on the Nascar auto racing race circuit.

He is scheduled to give the president a high-octane boost on Thursday, hosting a live chat on the Bush campaign website to explain why he and “the Nascar community” are backing the Bush team.

Maybe he can tell us what happens when a race ends in a tie.

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