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Mixed Impressions on Taxes

Gaps Exist Between Candidates' Positions, Public Perceptions

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By Lori Montgomery and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 11, 2008; Page A08

As far as Tony Montella is concerned, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is clearly the better choice for president: He's new. He's different. And, Montella said, he's bound to raise taxes.

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"He's going to raise them, and they need to be raised." said Montella, 69, a retired electrical contractor who lives in San Gabriel, Calif. "We're in such a big debt and we need to pay it off."

Montella's take on Obama's proposals might come as a shock to the candidate himself, who has spent much of the past three months telling voters that he wants to cut taxes for the vast majority of U.S. families. Throughout the summer, his campaign has hammered with almost single-minded focus on taxes and the economy. Still, Obama is fighting the widespread perception that he would jack up tax rates upon taking office.

McCain, too, is facing misperceptions on his tax proposals, although to a lesser extent.

According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of voters -- 51 percent -- said their federal taxes would go up under an Obama administration, while a third said so of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has pledged to cut taxes across the board.

Fourteen percent think their taxes will go up no matter who controls the White House.

The results are likely to be particularly frustrating for Obama, who has failed not only to break through on taxes but also to capitalize on McCain's perceived weakness on the economy, the central issue of the campaign, the poll shows. With less than two months until Election Day, the race is effectively deadlocked.

McCain has also increasingly won the confidence of voters to handle economic issues. This comes despite a deepening economic downturn and rising unemployment -- problems that Obama and other Democrats have blamed on President Bush -- as well as McCain's own rhetorical stumbles, including his failure to recall in an interview last month how many houses he owns.

"There's work to do, we don't doubt it," said Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman.

Much of the shift toward McCain stems from gains among white women following his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a self-described hockey mom, as his vice presidential candidate. Last month, before Palin's selection, white women preferred Obama's handling of the economy by 12 points; in the latest poll, they gave McCain a 10-point edge. Among all voters, Obama enjoyed a five-point lead, his narrowest margin yet.

Susan Pratt, 53, a retired nursing professor from Columbia, S.C., said Palin's selection solidified her support for McCain because she likes how Palin cut excess spending in Alaska by, for example, listing a government airplane for auction on eBay.

Pratt said she prefers McCain on taxes. "I simply disagree with Obama's initiative to increase taxes on people in the top tax bracket, simply because they have succeeded and are wealthy.

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