- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The presidential election is more than seven months away, and Democrats still do not have a nominee, but pollsters have already begun tentatively testing and forecasting which states Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama could carry against Sen. John McCain.

An ambitious 50-state poll of 30,000 registered voters by media pollster SurveyUSA shows Mr. McCain would lose to both of them at this point in the election year, though by a closer electoral margin against Mrs. Clinton (276-262) than against Mr. Obama (280-258) in the race for the 270 votes needed to win the presidency.

In both matchups, the poll shows the Democrats winning red states that Republicans have usually carried in past elections, though in some cases by razor-thin margins.

In the two preliminary matchups with the Arizona senator, Mr. Obama carries more historically red states than Mrs. Clinton, edging out Mr. McCain in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota, and in two of Nebraska’s three congressional districts, giving him two of its five electoral votes. The freshman senator carries the three West coast states, virtually all of the Midwest except Indiana, and most of the Northeast.

But Mr. McCain sweeps the rest of the Plains and mountain states in the West, all of the South, and picks up two pivotal Democratic bastions, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where other polls have shown the race getting close.

Against Mrs. Clinton, the presumptive Republican nominee carries almost all of the Western plains and mountain states, including Democratic-leaning Washington and Oregon, picks up New Hampshire and keeps Iowa, Missouri, and almost all of the South in the Republican column. But the New York senator narrowly wins New Mexico, and also reverses the 2004 outcomes in Arkansas, Florida, West Virginia and Ohio.

State-by-state polls measuring which way the presidential election can go are a risky proposition at best this early in the election. The Democrats are still embroiled in a bitter fight over the nomination that could leave their party deeply divided and weakened. Mr. McCain still has to unite Republicans after an exhaustive nominating battle that has created divisions among the GOP’s conservative base.

Even so, despite what many analysts see as a bleak political environment for the Republicans this year, more polls are showing the presidential race surprisingly close at this stage. A national Gallup poll and Rasmussen survey last week showed Mr. McCain was statistically tied with both Democrats.

SurveyUSA concedes in its poll findings that “there are specific limitations to this exercise.”

“The winner’s margin in each state is not always outside of the survey’s margin of sampling error,” it said.

For example, in the matchup between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, SurveyUSA’s poll shows that many states were too close to call. In the battleground state of Florida, Mr. McCain led by 47 percent to 45 percent. In New Hampshire, a swing state that has been trending Democrat, Mr. Obama led by 46 percent to 44 percent.

In the matchup between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain, New Mexico was dead even, 47 percent to 47 percent, with the former first lady only a fraction ahead. In Pennsylvania — a state Democrats need to win the presidency — she barely leads him by 47 percent to 46 percent.

A number of the Republican states that the poll shows both Democrats picking up have been in the GOP electoral column for most of the past four decades.

Florida, whose 27 electoral votes lifts Mrs. Clinton to a winning 276 electoral votes in the poll’s projections, has gone Republican in six of the past seven presidential elections. Bill Clinton in 1996 was the only Democrat since Jimmy Carter to carry it 20 years earlier.

And Colorado, where the survey had Mr. Obama leading Mr. McCain 50 percent to 41 percent, has been carried only once by the Democrats since Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 national landslide — by Mr. Clinton in 1992.

Similarly, North Dakota, where SurveyUSA showed Mr. Obama leading 46 percent to 42 percent, has been one of the reddest states in the GOP’s electoral arsenal. While its Senate and House seats are all held by Democrats, the last time the state went Democratic in a presidential race was the Johnson landslide.

Despite the poll showing Mr. Obama winning two of Nebraska’s congressional districts, in the last half century only Utah has voted more Republican in presidential elections. President Bush carried it in 2004 by a 33 percent margin.

Still, Democrats are targeting the red states that have been squeakers in the last election that could put them over 270 in November. Topping their list are New Mexico, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada, a sweep of which would provide them with an additional 39 electoral votes.

But Republicans have their targets, too — states that the Democrats won in 2004 by a narrow margin, including Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Michigan, where polls showed Mr. McCain running dead even against either of his possible Democratic rivals. Those four states combine for 41 electoral votes.

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