Polls: Obama Leads In Key Battleground States

Virginia is now the ultimate battleground. The interesting development there is that McCain leads among whites by 19 percent, which means Obama has improved on John Kerry's showing by 5 percent.
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Yesterday's poll results all centered on crucial battleground states:

  • In Virginia (polling history), SUSA has the two candidates locked in a toss-up, with McCain at 48% compared to Obama’s 47%. McCain leads among whites by 19% - which means Obama is improving on Kerry’s showing by 5%.
  • In Iowa, Obama is narrowly ahead in Rasmussen’s latest poll, 46% to 41% (49% to 44% with leaners). Last month, Obama was ahead by 9%.
  • In Oregon (polling history), Obama holds on to a solid lead in Rasmussen, 47% to 37% (52% to 42% with leaners). He led by 9% last month.
  • A national poll released by YouPoll/The Economist has Obama leading 42% to 39% - the same margin he led by in July.

The four polls confirm what we have known from some time (apart from Ohio and Florida polls, surveys have been quite consistent over the past few months!). Obama seems to be safer than past Democratic nominees in Oregon -- but also in Iowa: The only poll in which McCain ever led Obama in this 2004 Bush state was a survey released in… January 2007, and even then the Republican was only ahead by 1%. While this latest poll has a slightly tightening margin, Obama’s superior ground game in Iowa (inherited from the caucuses) should boost his total by several points.

Until July 24th, Colorado shared Iowa’s distinction as a red state in which McCain had never led. But Obama’s narrow lead in this state has been consistent, with the Democrat holding an advantage hovering around the margin of error. PPP’s latest poll is just further confirmation of that trend. But consider how close Obama would get with just IA and CO -- just one electoral vote away from a tie, making every other state must-wins for the McCain campaign, especially large ones like Virginia, which seems to have become the ultimate battleground of 2008. Consider that there hasn’t been a single Virginia poll with either candidate leading by more than 2% since Obama wrapped up the nomination.

Meanwhile, we got three important down-the-ballot polls:

  • In the Oregon Senate race (polling history), the July Rasmussen poll was the first (and so far only) poll to find Merkley ahead. This month, Rasmussen finds Smith with the lead, 47% to 39%. With leaners, the margin is 50% to 44%. Merkley’s weak point is the Democratic vote, as he only gets 69% of the vote.
  • In the Colorado Senate race (polling history), it is PPP’s turn to find a slightly tightening race, with Rep. Udall leading former Rep. Schaffer 47% to 41% - down from a 9% lead last month.
  • In Missouri, meanwhile, Rasmussen released its first poll since Kenny Hulshof won the Republican primary: There is no primary bounce for the GOP congressman, who trails Attorney General Jay Nixon 51% to 39% - up one point since the July poll.
  • In Virginia, no surprises in the Senate race as Mark Warner is marching towards a sure pick-up, leading 58% to 34% against Jim Gilmore in SUSA’s poll.
  • Rasmussen also released two less important Senate polls, finding Democratic Sens Harkin and Levin comfortably beating their Republican challengers in Iowa and Michigan.

PPP is the third institute in a row to find Udall losing ground in the Colorado Senate race (after Rasmussen and Quinnipiac) but the election leans towards the Democrat. In fact, the contest has been tight for much of the past year, with Udall opening a slight lead only late this spring. Given that this is an open seat in a swing state in a Democratic year, Udall was expected to have a more comfortable lead - but his advantage is at least consistent.

In Oregon, Gordon Smith has been running an aggressive ad campaign seeking to highlight his moderate credentials and win the support of Democrats and independents. This is the second poll in a row (after SUSA’s poll last week) to find Merkley’s numbers low among Democrats and suggesting Smith’s strategy is working. Merkley has been unable to respond as much as he should as his financial situation is weak (though the DSCC is getting involved). Note, however, that we should not take Rasmussen’s poll as a sign of a bounce in Merkley’s direction as that July poll was somewhat of an outlier.

Beyond the stakes of controlling Missouri’s gubernatorial mansion (which will also matter at the federal level, since Missouri is projected to lose a House seat in the 2010 census and the Governor will have a say in the redistricting process), I believe the state of the Nixon-Hulshof race will also tell us a lot about the presidential election. This is an open seat with two solid candidates. And while it is true that Nixon started campaigning years ago, that alone does not explain the large lead he has opened against Hulshof. That a Democratic non-incumbent is leading by double-digit in this red-leaning state confirms how dismal the environment is for the state GOP and that is sure to have an impact on the Obama-McCain contest.

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