The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out today nicely shows the ambivalence of voter opinion. On the one hand, respondents show a generic preference for a Democratic president over a Republican, 50 to 37 percent. But Barack Obama (47 to 44 percent) and Hillary Clinton (47 to 45 percent) both have leads over John McCain that are not statistically significant. Another way to look at it: McCain is running a little behind George W. Bush's 51 to 48 percent national performance in 2004.
But that may not be true everywhere. Yesterday, Scott Rasmussen released results of McCain-Obama and McCain-Clinton pairings in Pennsylvania. McCain's leads over Obama (44 to 43 percent) and Clinton (46 to 44 percent) are once again not statistically significant. But they suggest McCain is running a little behind George W. Bush's 48 to 51 percent loss in Pennsylvania in 2004. Interestingly, SurveyUSA shows more difference in McCain's performance against the two Democrats; it has McCain leading Obama 47 to 42 percent while trailing Clinton 47 to 46 percent. This sounds plausible, with Obama seeming likely to be a weaker candidate in gritty west and northeast Pennsylvania than Clinton.
The bottom line here is that I take these numbers as an indication that the general election contest will be very fluid this year, with both parties having a chance to win—and a chance to lose.