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With the presidential race nearly over, President Bush is hitting his stride at last.

Buoyed by a strong showing in the final presidential debate Monday and reassured by the enthusiasm in mostly Republican towns along his train ride Tuesday through the South, Bush is scrambling to show he is still in the running.``Remember the last inning of the Braves game when everyone was headed for the exits' and the last batter, Francisco Cabrera, drove in the winning runs that put the Atlanta team into the World Series, the president told an Atlanta television audience. ``That's what's going to happen in this election, so stay tuned.'

Later, he took the baseball analogy a step further before a gathering of several thousand supporters in Norcross. ``It ain't over until Cabrera swings,' he said.

By the time his chartered train bearing a rail safety sign that said, ``Operation Lifesaver,' reached the next stop in Gainesville, Ga., Bush was wearing a red, white and blue Braves jacket and doing the ``Tomahawk Chop' off the rear platform. He was introduced by an announcer who said simply: ``Last of the ninth. ...'

``I can't tell you what this has done for my spirits,' Bush said in concluding a particularly exuberant address to more than 5,000 fans here. But the president's situation may be more aptly compared with that of the tortoise coming to life just as the hare is about to step over the finish line. The fact that he is spending two days on a train riding through what should be the safe base states of Georgia, North Carolina and even South Carolina shows how much ground he still has to cover.

``Never in my 56 years have I seen an election turn around the last two weeks,' said Walt Snelling, 56, a gas and diesel fuel supplier in Gainesville, who said he will vote for Bush but believes he has no chance of winning.

Bush is sprinting now through a non-stop campaign schedule that will take him to four cities and at least two states every day until the election Nov. 3.

Supporters and analysts agreed that Bush seems to have finally found the formula for sharply challenging the front-runner, Gov. Bill Clinton, in a way that does not demean the president, and now he is going to go all out to press the point home.


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