WASHINGTON — "Joe the Plumber" may be paying off for John McCain.
The Arizona senator scored sharp gains on the pivotal issue of jobs and the economy in the past week, helping him gain a bit on front-runner Barack Obama and narrow the presidential race as it heads into the final week, according to an Ipsos/McClatchy Poll released Tuesday.
The poll found Obama's margin over McCain on who's stronger on jobs and the economy — by far the top issue in the country — down from 16 points to 7 points in one week.
The Illinois senator's loss of ground on that benchmark question came as McCain hammered him repeatedly as someone who'd give taxpayers' money to the poor and pay for it by raising taxes on small businesses, much like the plumbing business in Ohio that "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher said he wanted to buy someday.
Overall, the poll found:
Obama's 6-point lead in the Ipsos/McClatchy Poll is down from 8 points the week before. The survey of 831 likely voters, taken Thursday through Monday, has an error margin of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
When matched head to head without other candidates, Obama leads McCain by 5 points, down from 9 the week before.
Several other national polls also find the race tightening slightly, including Gallup and Zogby. Independent pollster John Zogby, for example, found Obama's lead Tuesday narrowing to 5.7 percentage points from as high as 11.9 points last week. Obama leads by an average of 7 points in 10 polls over the last week, according to RealClearPolitics.com.
Obama still leads in the Ipsos/McClatchy Poll among most demographic groups and on most issues. But he's lost ground on several:
On health care, likely voters trust Obama over McCain by 53-37 percent. That 16-point advantage was down from 24 points the week before.
McCain has the advantage on foreign policy, favored over Obama by a margin of 9 percentage points, and on national security by a margin of 12 points.
The economy and jobs remain the top issue for voters as they search for a president, listed as the top priority by 42 percent of likely voters. The distant second was national security, which 17 percent ranked as the top issue.
All other issues were far behind on the national to-do list.
Obama leads among almost all slices of the electorate, including men, women, all age groups, blacks, Hispanics and other races and ethnicities. He trails among non-Hispanic whites, who favor McCain by 50-39 percent.
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted Thursday through Monday. Ipsos interviewed 831 likely voters. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would've been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other subgroups of the survey population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including coverage error and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. population according to Census figures. Interviews were conducted with respondents on land-line and cellular telephones. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY