New polls paint bleak battleground map for McCain campaign

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 23, 2008 

INDIANAPOLIS — A series of new polls released Thursday found a bleak outlook for John McCain, even in traditionally Republican states, and a potential landslide victory for Democrat Barack Obama on Nov. 4.

The polls found McCain trailing Obama in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania and suggest that he's behind even in solidly red states such as Indiana, and they also suggest that his talk about "Joe the Plumber" has done little to help his cause.

"Senator Obama is no longer the candidate of the young, the well-educated and minorities. He is now virtually the candidate of the 'all,'" said Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which conducted one of the polls. "He is winning among all age groups in all three states. He wins women by more than 20 points in Ohio and Pennsylvania and is competitive among men in all three states. Whether voters went to college or not, they are voting for him.

"If these numbers hold up, he could win the biggest Democratic landslide since Lyndon Johnson in 1964," Brown said.

A new CBS News/New York Times poll found that a number of groups that supported President Bush in 2004, including married women, suburban voters and white Roman Catholics, now prefer Obama to McCain. Even white men, long solidly Republican, favor Obama, according to the poll, which overall found Obama leading McCain by 51 percent to 38 percent.

In Florida, where a Mason-Dixon poll earlier this week suggested that talk of the economy had helped McCain, a new Miami Herald poll Thursday found the Arizona senator trailing Obama by 49 percent to 42 percent.

The Herald poll, done in conjunction with the St. Petersburg Times by Republican and Democratic polling companies, was one of four surveys out Thursday that found the election map becoming more unfavorable to McCain.

Perhaps the most alarming of all, from a Republican perspective, was one sponsored by universities in the eight states that make up the Big 10 Conference of college sports teams. That survey found Obama ahead in all eight Big 10 states, including Ohio, Indiana and Iowa, three states that Bush carried four years ago. That was a dramatic shift from September, when the Big Ten Battleground Poll found the race a dead heat in all the states except Illinois, Obama's home state.

Now Obama is leading by double digits in all eight states, including Indiana, long a GOP stronghold, where the new poll found Obama ahead by 10 points. The last Democrat to carry the Hoosier state was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

"If the Republican is only winning Indiana by 1 or 2 points, he's in serious trouble," said Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the director of the Big Ten Battleground Poll. "McCain still has a chance to get to 270 electoral-college votes, but it's a narrow one."

The Big 10 poll found Obama up by 11 points in Pennsylvania, 12 points in Ohio, 13 points in Wisconsin and Iowa, 19 points in Minnesota and 22 points in Michigan. In his home state of Illinois, according to the poll, Obama is up by 29 points.

The Quinnipiac survey of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania found similar results. That survey found that:

  • In Ohio, Obama leads by 14, up from 12 at the beginning of the month.
  • In Pennsylvania, Obama leads by 13, down slightly from 14 points.
  • In Florida, where Obama led by 8 points at the beginning of October, he now leads by 5 points.

Obama's lead in the Quinnipiac and Miami Herald polls is too small to say with certainty that he leads McCain in Florida, but the Herald poll found some key indicators that McCain may be falling behind in that key battleground:

  • McCain trails Obama in Southwest Florida, long a reliable Republican base, and he leads in only one region, conservative North Florida — by 7 percentage points.
  • Obama has tied McCain among Florida voters over 65 years old. McCain had a 7-percentage point lead in the over-65 group a Herald poll taken last month, just as the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy precipitated the economic crisis.
  • Only 35 percent of Floridians said that McCain has demonstrated more leadership during the crisis and has a better plan to fix it, while 45 percent said Obama has demonstrated better leadership and 49 percent said the Illinois Democrat has a better plan to fix the economy.

The Herald poll also found that Obama's biggest boost in Florida came from independent voters, who now back him over McCain by a 57 percent to 22 percent margin. That's a 38-point shift toward the Democrat since the last poll in September, which was also conducted for the Herald, the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 television by SEA Polling and Strategic Design and The Polling Co.

The fate of McCain's campaign in Florida and elsewhere was damaged by troubles that are out of his hands, said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican who owns The Polling Co.

She said the ''superseding events" of the financial crisis hurt McCain, who led by 2 percentage points last month. But, she said, McCain's campaign is also to blame for his troubles because it's focused too on attacking Obama for his alleged ties to a Vietnam-era radical terrorist.

''Trying to connect Barack Obama to Bill Ayers rather than trying to connect McCain to the average voter on the economy has also been dubious," Conway said.

The growing importance of the economy and Obama's success in talking about the issue appear to be deciding factors in winning independent votes, which comprise about a fifth of Florida's electorate. Independents have grown increasingly worried about the economy, making them more like Democrats than Republicans.

Compared with about half of all Republicans, just under two-thirds of independents and Democrats reported experiencing big financial troubles — from losing a job to missing a mortgage payment. Of those who've experienced economic duress, 55 percent back Obama and 34 percent support McCain.

Tom Eldon, a Democrat and pollster with SEA, said that Obama has used the economy to improve his standing with nearly all types of Florida voters. In the case of senior citizens, it was his ''pounding" of McCain in television ads about Social Security, Medicare and health care. Obama has outspent McCain on advertising in Florida by 3-1.

McCain's initial response — rapping Obama for his ties to Ayers and the vote-registration group ACORN — missed the mark, Eldon said, because the attacks were geared toward firming up the Republican base, but they alienated independent voters, to whom the self-described maverick once appealed.

"He served up red meat for his base but he starved independents," Eldon said. "McCain has run a base campaign and it's a race right now that is all about the independent voters."

The McCain campaign also took heavily Republican Southwest Florida for granted, Eldon said, by not doing enough to appeal to the region's elderly voters who've lost a lot in the stock market. Obama opened up field offices in the Republican area to keep the pressure on McCain, a tactic that the Republican Conway said was an example of Obama's nearly "flawless" campaign.

However, Conway cautions, "Florida's still in play" in a politically and financially volatile atmosphere. Indeed, though the Quinnipiac poll's findings resembled those of The Miami Herald survey, three statewide polls this week found Obama losing momentum in the face of McCain's renewed attacks over the Democrat's recent statement that he wants to "spread the wealth around" by raising taxes on families that earn more than $250,000 a year.

(Caputo reports for The Miami Herald.)

ON THE WEB

Poll: Independents boost Obama in Florida

Quinnipiac University poll

Big Ten Battleground Poll

CBS News/New York Times poll

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