Obama has been losing ground in some opinion polls, but he remains ahead, largely because he is persuading many Americans that he is the best choice to right the faltering economy and change the unpopular policies of President Bush. The Democratic nominee has been urging voters to ask whether they are better off than they were four years ago—or four weeks ago—in a reprise of Ronald Reagan's famous question directed against President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Obama's goal is to link McCain ever more closely to fellow Republican Bush.
McCain is attacking Obama as too inexperienced to lead and too liberal on most issues, and the GOP candidate is getting ever more aggressive in trying to distance himself from Bush. He has been repeating the line he used in his final debate with Obama last week: "I am not George Bush." And in a television commercial, McCain acknowledges, "The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they?" McCain promises to do better.
The most recent Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll, released Tuesday, finds that Obama has an 8-point lead over McCain, 50 percent to 42 percent, among likely voters, up from 6 points on Monday. Obama widened his lead from 11 to 15 points among independent voters and from 8 to 13 points among women, according to the survey.
But the latest Washington Post/ABC News daily tracking poll gives Obama a steady 53 percent-to-44 percent lead over McCain among likely voters, about the same as a week earlier. Fifty-five percent say Obama better understands the economic problems people are having, compared with 36 percent for McCain. That represents an improvement for McCain of 8 percentage points and a 4-point drop for Obama.
McCain, however, is having trouble in key battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Florida, and Colorado.
McCain's advisers say he is only about 4 points behind nationally, according to internal GOP polls—not an insurmountable margin. To close the gap, the GOP nominee has decided on a three-pronged strategy for the final two weeks of the campaign. He will argue that he has a specific economic plan that would improve the lives of everyday Americans like "Joe the Plumber." Second, McCain will hit Obama as an extreme liberal who would raise taxes, add $1 trillion to federal spending, redistribute wealth, and fail to allow enough domestic energy development to achieve energy independence. Third, he will argue that Obama is a risky choice for president, too inexperienced and lacking the judgment to serve as commander in chief.
In a good sign for Obama, a new survey by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg for Democracy Corps finds that Obama remains overwhelmingly ahead among young people. Sixty-three percent of 18-to-29-year-olds support Obama compared with 28 percent who back McCain—little change from past surveys. "Most important," Greenberg says, "as the outcome of their choice was never really in doubt, young people enter the final stretch with an invigorated commitment to turn out to vote and an increased participation in the campaign itself." Sixty-six percent of young people say they are "almost certain" to vote—up from 58 percent two months ago.
But Greenberg adds: "Unfortunately, not all of this energy finds its way down ballot. A significant number of young people say they will turn out to vote in the presidential election and then go home without completing the ballot." This could hurt other Democratic candidates on Election Day.
One reason for Obama's strength is his ability to spend almost unlimited amounts of money on campaign ads across the country. He raised $150 million in September, part of a $600 million war chest. McCain decided to take $84 million in public financing, limiting his funds to that total, but various Republican committees are augmenting his spending.
Obama has announced that he will take a two-day break from campaigning starting Thursday in order to visit his seriously ill 85-year-old grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, in Hawaii. Her health has taken a turn for the worse recently. He will cancel events in Iowa and Wisconsin to make the trip but plans to resume campaigning Saturday.