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Battleground states seen tight, winnable

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

DENVER | On the eve of Sen. Barack Obama's historic acceptance of the Democratic presidential nomination, senior party strategists said the race in the battleground states remains frustratingly tight but winnable.

They also acknowledged that race was playing a factor in these states and that the freshman Illinois senator could still be defeated by Republican Sen. John McCain because of doubting Democratic voters.

"I can see a way we can lose this election, but it's more likely he wins than loses, though that's not certain," Democratic strategist James Carville said at a luncheon briefing hosted Wednesday by the Christian Science Monitor.

Mr. Carville, the feisty political adviser who helped Bill Clinton become the first Democrat in more than five decades to win two terms as president, also said reports that many of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters remain bitter and unenthusiastic about Mr. Obama were overblown.

"You have bruised feelings but the process goes on. Anyone can go out and interview 100 Hillary Clinton people and you are going to find someone who says, 'I'm still mad about this,'" he said.

Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg said his polling shows that race continues to be a factor in the election. "A number of voters said that," he said.

Mr. Carville expressed some frustration that the convention and Mr. Obama's campaign have not responded forcefully enough to the McCain camp's TV and Internet attacks.

Mr. Greenberg expressed doubts about Mr. Obama's decision to deliver his acceptance speech Thursday at a mass outdoor rally expected to draw more than 75,000 people. "I'm nervous about that format, the noise level" and whether Mr. Obama's message comes across to TV viewers, he said.

Both men acknowledged the election will be won or lost in a handful of battleground contests and their latest poll of 1,348 likely voters in 18 tossup states (including leaners) showed Mr. Obama leading by a mere two points, 46 percent to 44 percent, for a statistical dead heat.

The Gallup Poll's national daily tracking surveys showed Mr. McCain edging ahead slightly, while other battleground surveys in tossup states such as Michigan, Ohio and Florida showed the race virtually dead even.

Michigan, a pivotal Midwestern industrial state, has been a key focus of the Democracy Corps polling group founded by the two strategists. It is the legendary home of the "Reagan Democrats," once-dyed-in-the-wool Democratic voters who turned on their party in the 1980s and gave Ronald Reagan 66 percent of their vote in 1984.

One of that state's key swing regions then was Macomb County. Al Gore took it by just two percentage points in 2000 and Sen. John Kerry lost it by 1 point in 2004.

"Today, Barack Obama trails John McCain in Macomb by seven points (46 percent to 39 percent), with 8 percent for Ralph Nader and 2 percent for Bob Barr," Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Carville wrote in a recent polling analysis titled, "Back to Macomb - Reagan Democrats and Barack Obama."

Their poll found that Mr. Obama was "underperforming with Democrats, getting 71 percent of their support here compared to 85 percent nationally."

On the other hand, they noted that Mr. Clinton lost Macomb by 5 points in 1992 and "still carried the state easily and that Obama faces nothing like the 20 point or 30-point wipe out in Macomb that contributed to [Walter] Mondale and [Michael] Dukakis losing Michigan handily."

"So why are these voters in Macomb holding back from Obama?" they said in their analysis. "They are not sure they really know him well enough to trust him and race is a consideration that rises to the level of a threshold issue, with voters wanting to be sure he will represent everyone."