Sen. John McCain is making inroads on some key poll questions, including his ability to handle the economy and to buck President Bush, but he lags far behind his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, in several Republican-leaning battleground states where the election will be won or lost.
Mr. McCain’s move to distance himself from Mr. Bush last week - declaring “I am not President Bush” at the final presidential debate - appears to be reaching voters, despite a barrage of ads from the Obama campaign accusing the senator from Arizona of being in lock step with the president.
A CNN/Opinion Research poll found that 52 percent of voters think Mr. McCain’s policies would be different from Mr. Bush’s, up eight percentage points in just two weeks. It was the first time a majority of voters said he would take the country in a different direction than the wildly unpopular Mr. Bush.
Mr. McCain also gained ground on the question of who would best handle the economy, an issue that previously helped catapult the Democratic presidential nominee to a commanding lead.
About 36 percent of likely voters in an ABC/Washington Post poll released Tuesday said they think Mr. McCain better understands the economic problems - a low number, but eight percentage points higher than just 10 days ago.
Mr. McCain also made strides on questions of who is the stronger leader and would do more to bring change to Washington, though a majority of voters still picked Mr. Obama in both categories.
Mr. Obama kept the country’s money woes center stage Tuesday at an economic roundtable in Florida, where he linked Mr. McCain to the president and said they “offered little more than willful ignorance, wishful thinking, and outdated ideology” to address the financial crisis.
“I heard Senator McCain say that I´m more concerned with who gets your piece of the pie than with growing the pie,” Mr. Obama said. “But make no mistake about it, after eight years of Bush-McCain economics, the pie is now shrinking. That means lower wages and declining incomes and plummeting home values and rising unemployment.”
Mr. McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, responded in a joint statement, slamming Mr. Obama for supporting higher taxes and protectionist trade policies that will “make hard economic times worse.”
“We oppose harmful attempts to just ‘spread the wealth,’ ” they said. “Our job-creating economic plan is the best path for the economy and includes the types of policies that the Congress should consider.”
The Democratic presidential nominee led Mr. McCain by five percentage points in a nationwide CNN poll Monday, and state-by-state surveys show him up in at least eight states Mr. Bush won in 2004.
Mr. Obama’s strong lead in red states Iowa, New Mexico and Virginia and his hold on all states won four years ago by Democrat John Kerry would be enough to win the election.
Mr. Obama has based much of his campaign on trying to tie Mr. McCain to Mr. Bush, who is setting poll records for unpopularity, and the Obama campaign is running a commercial pushing the link.
“John McCain voted for George Bush’s agenda 90 percent of the time and bragged that was more than most Republicans,” said Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan. “In overwhelming numbers, the American people understand that we are on the wrong track and can’t afford more of the same failed polices and destructive politics that we’ve seen over the last eight years for the next four.”