- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sen. John McCain would have an easier time beating Sen. Barack Obama than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in this fall’s presidential race, according to an analysis conducted by Karl Rove, President Bush’s former political strategist.

In fact, the nationwide analysis of state polls shows that in a head-to-head matchup, the Arizona Republican would be just nine electoral votes short of the 270 needed to win the presidency. Mr. Obama was 75 votes from the magic number.

Seven weeks ago, the same compilation of state polls put the Illinois Democrat ahead of Mr. McCain 228-204, with the rest of the available electoral votes in the “tossup” pile, as about a dozen states had poll margins of less than 3 percentage points.

“In the seven weeks leading into Pennsylvania, Obama began to lose support among working-class Democrats and Catholics, two groups critical to any Democrat’s victory in November,” Mr. Rove said yesterday.

“And then his comment assailing rural and small-town voters as ‘clinging’ to guns, faith and xenophobia cemented in the minds of many voters the notion he was hostile to Middle America and an elitist. All these hurt his competitive position versus McCain, while helping boost Clinton’s,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s comment two weeks ago in San Francisco that working-class voters in older industrial towns rocked by job losses “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion … or anti-immigrant sentiment” resonated throughout Pennsylvania, which he lost to Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat, by nearly 10 points.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama spent much of yesterday repudiating remarks made by his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who on Monday said, among other things, that the U.S. government could be responsible for the creation of the AIDS virus.

The 2008 election may well play out in the industrial heartland, especially in key states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, which all have large numbers of working-class voters. All but Ohio went to the Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race.

Mr. Rove said Mr. McCain has a chance to put some of those states in the Republican column.

“If it is Obama versus McCain, then McCain has a better shot in the industrial Midwest — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — than he does against Clinton,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s recent problems have helped Mr. McCain: In the Rove poll analysis of April 18, Mr. McCain picked up 24 electoral votes against Mr. Obama from the week before. But Mrs. Clinton has benefited as well. In a McCain-Clinton race, Mr. McCain lost 41 electoral votes, with all going in to the “tossup” category, but he still leads 214-161.

Democrats say they expect the economy and the war in Iraq to be the main issues in many big swing states this year, which favors them.

“The Republican Party’s wishful thinking aside, when the voters see John McCain’s real record, his promise of a third Bush term and his willingness to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years instead of investing in America, they will decide that McCain is the wrong choice for America’s future,” said Damien LaVera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.

Party leaders also contend that the Rocky Mountain states are in play this year and are targeting Colorado, with nine electoral votes, along with Nevada and New Mexico, each with five.

Demographics in the region have changed from 2004, when all three voted Republican. The Hispanic immigrant population has increased and many new residents are more independent and concerned about issues such as the environment and growth.

While Mr. Rove said Mr. McCain “may have a problem” in Nevada, “I don’t buy the hype about Colorado — I think Obama has a problem in Colorado.”

The national electoral maps, which Karl Rove & Co. compile weekly based on the latest state polls, change regularly, and Mr. Rove said the polls vary widely in quality and quantity.

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