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In baseball it's one, two, three strikes and the batter is out. Not so in politics. If it were so, President Bush would not have a chance to win re-election.

Most observers of the three presidential debates agree that the Democratic challenger, John Kerry, won all of them, or at least two of the three encounters. Does that guarantee that the president hasn't a chance for re-election? The answer is no. In the few remaining days before Election Day, though, a lot could happen to change the picture for both sides.

For example, if Osama bin Laden were to be captured or killed before the election, it is almost a certainty that Bush would be re-elected. Does that make sense? Of course not. There's a lot more at stake than the future of bin Laden.

There are other circumstances that could determine the outcome of the election, given the closeness of this race. For example, a decisive American victory or defeat in Iraq could sway voters who remain in the "undecided" category. And there's always the possibility of some unexpected but definitive pronouncement that could do great damage to the Kerry or the Bush campaign. It's doubtful this could occur after such a long and bitter road to Election Day that explored so many issues. But you just never know.

I watched every minute of the three Bush-Kerry debates and the Cheney-Edwards vice presidential debate as well as hundreds of hours of commentary from the political pundits. I anticipate hearing little or nothing new from either side in these final days.

In one way, this presidential campaign has not differed from most of those in the recent past. Both Bush and Kerry have made promises that they would have difficulty in fulfilling if elected. Hyperbole is a hallmark of election campaigns and we're convinced that both men, while well meaning, would be unlikely to carry through on all or even most of their pledges if elected. Each of the candidates made categorical promises during the course of the debates. Kerry said that he would never raise taxes of those making less than $200,000 a year, while Bush said he would never reinstitute the draft. It's easy to make a pledge, but isn't it possible that unforeseen events will make these pledges difficult to fulfill?

There was an unusual twist to the course of the presidential debates. Initially, the belief was that Kerry had to show he had the moral fiber to be an effective president and Bush had to prove that his actions of the past few years had earned him a right to a second term in office.

Most political observers have agreed that Kerry accomplished the objective they thought would be most important for him. There is a split decision on the Bush performance, and his stubborn insistence that he had made no mistakes during his time in office.

There is agreement by most pundits that neither candidate did a good job in delineating what they would do to terminate the U.S. role in Iraq. Neither one had any definitive answers about how to effectuate a credible U.S. withdrawal from that nation.

Meanwhile, the refusal of ego-driven Ralph Nader to withdraw from the race once again poses the threat of an election outcome that is less than satisfactory. With the closeness of the Bush-Kerry race in some 10 states, the votes for Nader, who hasn't the slightest chance of being elected, could give Bush electoral victories in some states and ultimately throw the election to the president.

The Nader presence on the ballot distorts the intent of millions of Americans who want either Bush or Kerry to be the next president.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News.

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