- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sen. John McCain is having a very good summer, as a trio of new polls show the Republican presidential candidate pulling even with or slightly ahead of rival Sen. Barack Obama and erasing what had been the Democrat’s clear edge on appealing to swing voters and dealing with the economy.

Among the more striking findings: Independent voters, who clearly preferred the Democrat in previous surveys, now favor Mr. McCain by a 45 percent to 35 percent margin, according to the bipartisan George Washington University/Battleground 2008 poll published Wednesday. The Republican candidate is in a statistical tie with Mr. Obama on what was supposed to be a Democratic strong suit: dealing with the economy.

“The last three months, John McCain has really taken his case to the people and has made some pretty good gains against Obama,” said Republican pollster Brian Nienaber of the Tarrance Group, which helps compile the Battleground survey.

“The myth that Obama was just going to ascend to the presidency in a cloud of grace, adulation and oratory is proving to be just that - a myth,” he said.

Mr. Nienaber and veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake on Wednesday released the latest Battleground poll showing Mr. McCain with a 47 percent to 46 percent lead among likely voters, although that one-point gap is statistically insignificant since the poll’s error margin is 3.1 percentage points.

In a separate poll conducted by the Reuters news agency and pollster John Zogby, Mr. McCain reversed a seven-point deficit in July to take a 46 percent to 41 percent lead over Mr. Obama among likely voters.

Mr. McCain’s edge on the economy is even more striking in the Reuters/Zogby poll, turning a four-point deficit in July into a 49 percent to 40 percent lead when voters were asked which candidate could better manage the economy.

In the Zogby poll, Mr. McCain was favored by 83 percent of Republican voters while Mr. Obama was backed by just 74 percent of Democratic voters.

Mr. Zogby attributed Mr. Obama’s slide to the spate of attack ads he weathered while vacationing in Hawaii, to criticism that he flip-flopped on issues such as offshore oil drilling and to concerns about his readiness after he appeared soft in his response to the Russian invasion of Georgia.

“He’s on the ropes,” the pollster said. “He can’t win with 74 percent of Democrats.”

The news was slightly better for Mr. Obama in the third voter survey, conducted by Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times.

The Illinois Democrat barely edged out Mr. McCain of Arizona, 42 percent to 41 percent, among registered voters and scored better than in the two other polls on his handling of the economy and the problem of rising fuel prices.

But Los Angeles Times pollster Susan Pinkus said it is striking how well the Republican nominee is running against a political and economic backdrop that both parties say should favor Democrats.

“With the economy doing so poorly and the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, Obama should be further ahead,” she said.

Mrs. Lake, the Democratic pollster, said Wednesday that Mr. McCain’s summer had been productive and that Republicans were largely driving the debate over offshore drilling and fuel prices.

Although the Battleground poll found that more voters think Mr. McCain is running a negative campaign, she said, some of the attack themes against Mr. Obama were working.

She argued, however, that the poll data continue to suggest that Mr. Obama’s supporters are more energized than are Mr. McCain’s, that the Obama campaign has the potential to alter the traditional political map, and that independents and Democrats are united in their belief that the country is “on the wrong track.”

“I think the indicators are very volatile right now and both sides are going to fight very hard” for the independent vote, she said.

Mr. Nienaber noted that the party conventions, the running mates and the presidential debates can alter the dynamics of the race.

He said Mr. McCain’s unexpected strength on such core issues as energy prices and the economy is a good sign for Republicans, complementing Mr. McCain’s pronounced lead over Mr. Obama on national security issues.

In the Battleground poll, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama each received 43 percent on the question of which candidate could “keep America prosperous.” Mr. Obama led 47 percent to 41 percent when the question was asked in May.

“No Democratic candidate has ever won who didn’t enjoy a big lead on that question,” Mr. Nienaber said.

  • S.A. Miller contributed to this report.
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