- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain has gotten a jolt of support right where he wanted it - from the independent voters whom he courted so aggressively at last week’s convention - and now holds a healthy lead over his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, in the chase for that key constituency.

A Gallup Poll to be released Tuesday shows that Mr. McCain’s backing among independent voters jumped 12 percentage points in recent days, providing welcome news for a Republican candidate who has been torn between nurturing his maverick appeal to independents and trying to appease the party’s conservative base.

He somehow satisfied both groups at the party convention last week in St. Paul, Minn., where he energized core Republican voters by naming Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, but also emphasized the ticket’s commitment to changing Washington through bipartisanship.

“Clearly, he is moving on the independents,” Gallup Poll editor-in-chief Frank Newport said of the new survey that helps explain how Mr. McCain of Arizona gained ground.

The poll shows support for Mr. McCain among independents spiked from 40 percent to 52 percent, his largest share of the independent vote since Gallup began tracking the race.

Mr. McCain also gained five points among Democrats, from 9 percent to 14 percent.

Compounding Mr. Obama’s challenges, about 29 percent of former rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s backers - more than 5 million voters - say they will cast their ballots for Mr. McCain, according to pollster John Zogby.

“He’s a good candidate and a resilient fellow. We’ve just got to see how resilient a guy he is,” Mr. Zogby said.

Mr. McCain took a 49 percent to 44 percent lead Monday in the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll of registered voters, a six-point bounce for Mr. McCain since before the convention. A USA Today/Gallup Poll published Monday showed him opening a 10-point lead over Mr. Obama of Illinois, 54 percent to 44 percent, among likely voters.

These are the largest advantages that Mr. McCain has scored in months. He had consistently trailed Mr. Obama in most polls throughout the race.

The latest Zogby International survey showed the McCain ticket ahead 49.7 percent to 45.9 percent, although the poll more frequently puts Mr. McCain in the lead than most other surveys.

Other polls, including surveys by CNN and CBS News, showed the race dead even.

Mr. Newport credited Mr. McCain’s rise in the Gallup polls to exposure from the convention and a boost from Mrs. Palin. The pollster cited Mr. McCain’s improved ratings across a broad spectrum of issues, including national security and the economy.

“It could fade,” he said. “This week is going to be a very telling week.”

The Obama campaign dismissed the recent reversal of fortune.

“The electorate is closely divided, and these numbers will change, but what won’t is the fact that John McCain voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time and Governor Palin supported the ‘bridge to nowhere,’” said Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.

He referred to a $223 million federal earmark to pay for a bridge to a remote Alaska island. The McCain campaign touted Mrs. Palin’s opposition to the bridge as evidence of her fight against wasteful Washington spending, but she reportedly voiced support for the project early in the process before Congress nixed it.

The Obama campaign nevertheless must shore up support from independents or risk a repeat of primary losses in swing states, where independent-minded voters backed away from Mr. Obama at the last minute.

Undecided Democratic primary voters who waited until Election Day before choosing a candidate overwhelmingly picked rival Mrs. Clinton of New York. They sided with Mrs. Clinton by an average six-point margin, exit polls showed.

Mr. McCain’s upswing in national polls also raises his prospects in critical swing states, such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which specializes in swing-state polls.

“Obviously, the McCain people are a lot happier than they were a week ago,” Mr. Brown said. “They should be happy. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will win the election, but they are ahead for the first time in a long time.”

The defection of independent voters echoes setbacks for Mr. Obama in early August, when growing doubts among white working-class and independent voters blunted the campaign’s momentum and tightened the race to a statistical dead heat heading into the back-to-back party conventions.

Both candidates solidified their base during the conventions, with Mr. McCain backed by 95 percent of self-described conservative Republicans and Mr. Obama favored by 93 percent of self-described liberal Democrats, according to a Gallup poll.

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