Obama Leading In Ohio, Poll Finds

Brian Heath paints a Barack Obama campaign logo on Gary Lahman's garage just outside of Bowling Green, Ohio.
Brian Heath paints a Barack Obama campaign logo on Gary Lahman's garage just outside of Bowling Green, Ohio. (By J.d. Pooley -- Getty Images)
By Jon Cohen and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Aided by the faltering economy, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has the upper hand in the race for Ohio, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, putting Republican John McCain at a disadvantage in a state considered vital to his chances of winning the White House in November.

The state's voters, long suffering from a poor economy and newly battered by the turmoil in the financial, credit and housing markets, give Obama stronger marks on handling the economy, creating jobs and dealing with tax policy. The senator from Illinois also has a big lead as the candidate more in tune with the economic problems people are confronting, a significant benefit as more than half of all voters consider the economy and jobs the campaign's top issue.

Overall, among likely voters in the new poll, 51 percent said they would support Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), if the election were held today, while 45 percent said they would back McCain and his vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

McCain has the edge on handling the U.S. fight against terrorism and, narrowly, the Iraq war, but those issues are far less important this year. Just 9 percent of voters call them their top issues.

Still, about two in 10 voters are "movable," nearly double the proportion who were in that position two weeks before the 2004 election, suggesting the possibility of some significant shifts in the weeks ahead.

Beyond that, Obama holds a 2 to 1 advantage over McCain as the candidate more likely to bring needed change to Washington.

The new survey underscores the degree to which the economic crisis has shaken up the presidential race and the obstacles that now confront McCain in the final month of the campaign.

No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio, and the state's 20 electoral votes are of paramount importance to McCain. If the senator from Arizona were to win every other state that President Bush carried four years ago, but lose Ohio, he would fall four electoral votes short of the 270 needed to win the White House. Only Florida, of other major battlegrounds the Republicans won in the past two elections, looms as large as Ohio in determining the next president.

The support for Obama comes at an opportune time for the Democrat, as Ohioans began early voting a week ago at polling places statewide. The Ohio secretary of state's office estimates that a quarter of all voters will cast their ballots as absentees or at an early voting location before Election Day, more than twice as many as did so four years ago.

There are indications from the survey that Obama also may have an early advantage in mobilizing and turning out Ohio voters over the next month. He has more enthusiastic supporters than McCain does, and has reached more voters in Ohio than his rival.

Nearly four in 10 voters said they have already been contacted by someone from the Obama campaign either by phone or in person. That is significantly higher than the number who said they have heard from the McCain campaign. It also is higher than the number who said they had been called or visited by the campaigns of Bush or Democrat John F. Kerry in mid-October four years ago.

Including e-mail and text messages this year, the Obama campaign has contacted 43 percent of all voters and the McCain campaign has been in touch with 33 percent. Both sides have reached out to the party faithful, but Obama has done somewhat better at targeting independents.

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