One week before Democrats gather to nominate Sen. Barack Obama to be president, polls show the Illinois lawmaker locked in a dead heat with Republican Sen. John McCain, who now leads among white voters overall and has gained among Republicans, evangelicals and white working-class people.
Although the Pew Research Center survey was largely conducted before the military hostilities precipitated by Russia’s Aug. 8 invasion of neighboring Georgia, its findings underscored the mostly favorable reviews that defense analysts gave to Mr. McCain’s response to the crisis.
The poll showed that voters trust the Arizona senator more than Mr. Obama to “use good judgment in a crisis” by 51 percent to 36 percent.
Ariel Cohen, foreign-policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Obama camp’s behavior during the Georgia crisis “vindicated” suspicions that Mr. Obama isn’t up to speed to deal with major international conflicts.
“His campaign was consistently vague and slow to react in their reaction to the Russian invasion. It is clear that Obama is within the mainstream of Berkeley, Calif., in terms of the security and defense issues that concern the American voters,” he said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, an Obama backer, disagreed, saying Friday that Russia’s actions played to Mr. Obama’s criticism of President Bush’s foreign policy.
“George Bush’s foreign policy has failed across the board, and especially in containing Russia. We’ve tried to befriend Russia, and it hasn’t worked,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “We need someone to come to Washington and have a fresh and new look, something different than the Bush-McCain administrations.”
Former Rep. Vin Weber, Minnesota Republican, appearing with Mr. Rendell on the program, however, maintained that the issues raised by the war between the two countries validated Mr. McCain’s long criticism of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom the senator said could not be trusted.
“John McCain has been right about Russia more than this president has and more than Senator Obama,” Mr. Weber said.
The Pew poll, with a 2.5-percentage-point margin of error, found 46 percent of the voters surveyed favored or leaned toward Mr. Obama, while 43 percent supported his Republican opponent - a near tie. That was in sharp contrast to the same group’s poll in June, which showed Mr. Obama with a comfortable eight-point lead over Mr. McCain, 48 percent to 40 percent.
The Gallup Poll’s daily tracking survey also reported Friday that the race is a tie, 44 percent to 44 percent, with Mr. Obama slipping from his 47 percent average over the past week. Gallup said, “The closer margin seen in today’s results is due more to movement away from Obama than toward McCain.”
“McCain is garnering more support from his base - including Republicans and white evangelical Protestants … and he also has steadily gained backing from white working-class voters over this period,” Pew said.
Moreover, voters are giving Mr. McCain higher marks for leadership qualities - a major theme in his campaign ads - and “now see him as the candidate who would use the best judgment in a crisis, and an increasing percentage see him as the candidate who can get things done,” Pew said.
In addition to leading among white voters by 51 percent to 39 percent, white Southerners now support McCain by a margin of 29 points, 60 percent to 31 percent. He also led among whites with no more than a high-school education by nearly 20 points, 53 percent to 34 percent.
“These are still the dog days of summer, and we still see 10 percent to 15 percent of the voters haven’t made up their minds yet and are not likely to pay attention until September or October,” said independent pollster John Zogby, author of “The Way We’ll Be,” a new book on political trends in the country.