- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Growing doubts among white working-class and independent voters blunted the momentum of Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential run in recent days, leaving him in a tight contest with Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, pollsters say.

“His bubble hasn’t burst, but it’s leaking a little bit,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “It is not massive. It is incremental, but we’ve seen it across the board in all of these states, that [Mr. McCain] is doing better among white voters, especially white voters without college educations.”

Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, led by double digits earlier this summer but now barely edges out the Arizona Republican in most national polls. A Gallup daily tracking poll released Tuesday showed Mr. Obama with a four-point advantage but, for the first time since June, losing the battle for independents 43 percent to 40 percent.

“Obama moved from a fascinating phenomena to a guy who could become president and now he has got to answer the question of is he ready to be president,” said John Zogby, president of the polling firm Zogby International, whose latest poll this week gave Mr. McCain a one-percentage-point lead.

Mr. Zogby said racial prejudice is clearly behind some of the defections from Mr. Obama and said Mr. McCain has made gains among conservatives, women and young voters, and now leads among Catholics - a group Mr. Obama struggled to win over in a grueling primary battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

After months of glowing press coverage and the chance to define himself, Mr. Obama has faced tougher times in the past few weeks. The McCain campaign has run an ad comparing the Democrat to lightweight celebrities, and pollsters said Mr. McCain has benefited from his proposal to expand offshore oil drilling.

Deepening Mr. Obama’s woes, the appetite for negative information appears to be large. The Associated Press reported that three new anti-Obama books were among the top 20 best-sellers on Amazon.com’s list on Tuesday, despite little critical attention or mainstream media coverage.

Seeking to counter some of the loss of support, the Obama campaign announced that it would deploy Mrs. Clinton to Nevada and Florida later this month. She won both Nevada’s caucuses and Florida’s primary.

The Obama campaign said the candidate would continue to build support throughout the electorate with plans to address high gas prices and the economic crunch, issues that have burst to the fore the election.

“Senator Obama is going to keep talking about his plan to give middle-class families a $1,000 rebate funded by a windfall profits tax on the oil companies,” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said, adding that Mr. McCain took $2 million in contributions from the oil industry and proposes lower corporate tax rates that would benefit big oil companies.

The McCain camp counters that the polls are moving because voters have questions about Mr. Obama’s “inexperience” and “failed judgment pocketbook issues.”

“John McCain has a record of making reform and fighting Washington’s conventional wisdom, which Barack Obama absolutely does not,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bonds.

Not all the polls show a dead-even race.

The AP/Ipsos poll released Tuesday gave Mr. Obama a 47 percent to 41 percent lead, with the margin coming from women, minorities and young voters.

Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, said independent voters are fickle by nature and switch allegiances often during a campaign, but he said Mr. Obama has retained a consistent three-point lead overall throughout the summer and likely will remain that way until the party conventions.

“It looks like it always comes back to the same pattern,” Mr. Newport said. “I don’t say he has lost any support. He has been steady all summer.”

Mr. Zogby disagreed.

In addition to drops in support from Catholics, he noted a dip in support among young voters for Mr. Obama, who throughout the primaries attracted throngs of college-age and other young first-time voters.

“Maybe some young voters started to say, ‘Hey, I thought he was different?’” Mr. Zogby said.

The same forces were at work in battleground states, said Mr. Brown, whose organization has been surveying voters in those states.

In Minnesota, Mr. McCain jumped to a 48 percent to 40 percent lead among independents, after Mr. Obama led in June by 21 points - 54 percent to 33 percent - Mr. McCain also jumped to a lead among independent voters in both Ohio and Florida, and Mr. Obama lost support among independents in Michigan and Colorado.

While Democrats usually win between 85 percent and 90 percent of black voters, Mr. Brown said Mr. Obama this year can expect to win 95 percent. That means Mr. McCain will need to boost his margins among white voters and win as many Hispanic voters as possible.

Given Mr. Obama’s expected lead among younger voters, that makes the battleground clear: “non-young, non-black voters,” Mr. Brown said.

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