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Financial crisis shakes up presidential campaign

Barack Obama has the edge on economic issues, but volatile markets could change that.

By Staff Writer / October 1, 2008

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama spoke during a campaign rally in La Crosse, Wis., on Tuesday.

Jason Reed/Reuters



The chaos and confusion of the credit crisis have further scrambled the wild presidential race of 2008.

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Democrat Barack Obama appears to have gained an electoral edge from his actions over recent days. But “gain,” in this context, is a relative term. Given the volatility of the situation, Senator Obama’s narrow lead among voters on economic issues could disappear with the next plunge of the Dow Jones Average.

For the moment, both Obama and GOP nominee Sen. John McCain are stuck pressing for passage of an unpopular bailout bill only weeks before election day. Voters appear dismayed by losses in retirement funds and predictions of dire economic problems, but they may remain unsure whether Washington’s current course is the right one.

“The complexity of the situation for the average person is just daunting,” says Michael McTeague, a former history professor and acting interim associate dean at Ohio University-Eastern in St. Clairsville.

The collapse of big eastern financial institutions does worry voters around Ohio University-Eastern’s campus, located only 15 miles west of Wheeling W. Va., adds Mr. McTeague. But their biggest concerns remain local.

“We’re looking at whether our little community bank is going to keep working,” he says.

Since the credit crisis escalated two weeks ago with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Obama has opened a narrow lead in general polls. A Gallup daily tracking survey released Sept. 29 had Obama in the lead, 49 to 43 percent.

Within the poll numbers, Obama appears to have been helped by a number of factors. For one, voters generally tend to say they believe Democrats are better at handling the economy than Republicans, and that appears to have happened here. A new Hotline poll shows that over the last week the percentage of respondents who feel McCain is better prepared than Obama to handle the economy fell five percentage points, from 43 to 38 percent.

McCain’s personal performance, from his attempt to cancel the initial presidential debate to his silence in presidential meetings on the bailout, did not gain him new votes, at least in the short term. A USA Today/Gallup poll taken before the bailout failed to pass the House on Monday showed that 53 percent of respondents judged his actions unfavorably.

But neither did voters see the junior Democratic senator from Illinois riding to their rescue. Forty-three percent of respondents viewed Obama’s performance unfavorably, as well.