McCain gains ground in three battleground states

In Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, the likely GOP nominee closes in on Obama, poll shows.

Robert Frazier
Clay Richards, a pollster at Quinnipiac University, gave new survey results for Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida at Thursday’s Monitor breakfast.

Sen. Barack Obama’s eight-day trip to the Middle East and Europe appears not to have done much for his presidential campaign in three key battleground states, a new poll reports.In Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, Senator Obama, the likely Democratic nominee, remains in the lead by small margins, but those leads have tightened since early June, when he wrapped up the nomination, according to three Quinnipiac University Swing State polls released Thursday at a Monitor breakfast.Obama leads Republican John McCain by 7 percentage points in Pennsylvania, down from 12 points in June. His lead in Ohio and Florida is down to 2 points, which is within the margin of error. Last month, he led in Ohio by 6 points and Florida by 4 points.It’s possible that Obama’s trip mitigated what could have been even bigger gains by Senator McCain in the past six weeks, two Quinnipiac pollsters said. It’s also possible that McCain’s support for off-shore oil drilling, which Obama opposes, helped his numbers in those three states. Another possible factor is that six weeks have elapsed since Obama emerged victorious from primary season, and there’s been a slight letdown since then.“Six weeks ago Senator Obama was still riding the bubble of having wrapped up the nomination; Senator Clinton had withdrawn,” said Peter Brown, an assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. “To some degree, you can’t say his bubble has burst, but it’s probably leaked a little bit.”For decades, the three states polled – Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida – have together formed a critical bellwether for presidential elections. No one has been elected since John Kennedy without carrying two of the three. Odds are that will be the case this year, but the pollsters don’t rule out that Obama could lose two of the three but make up the electoral votes by carrying newly competitive states in the Mountain West, such as Colorado and New Mexico.In the latest Quinnipiac Swing State poll, McCain’s progress came among white, working-class voters, the demographic where Obama’s main primary opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was stronger and which has proved difficult for Obama to win over.The poll also showed that energy could be a winning issue for McCain. Among all the economic issues weighing heavily on voters’ minds, energy and gasoline prices rank No. 1.In Pennsylvania, 60 percent of residents favor offshore drilling, which is McCain’s position. And almost 30 years after the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, near Harrisburg, Penn., Pennsylvanians are increasingly amenable to the building of new nuclear power plants.“Pennsylvania residents now favor building new nuclear power plants 58 to 32, and that includes a shift of about 8 percent of the people who used to oppose nuclear plants,” said Clay Richards, another associate director of the poll.The polls in all three states showed voters evenly divided between Obama and McCain over which has the better energy plan. Each gets about one-third support for his energy plan, with the other third of likely voters undecided.Ultimately, given an electoral playing field that tilts heavily toward the Democrats, the election is a referendum on Obama, and whether the young senator from Illinois can boost voters’ comfort level with making him president.“Not that Senator McCain is not an important figure,” says Mr. Brown, “but Senator Obama is going to win or lose based on whether Americans think he can sit in the Oval Office.”

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