After Conventions, McCain Takes Lead In Some Polls

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John McCain is running neck and neck with Barack Obama in polls and has a 10-point lead in one poll. But Obama is still strongly pursuing Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Virginia; McCain is looking at New Hampshire, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR news. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Now, the state of the presidential race. Judging from the polls, the race between John McCain and Barack Obama is extremely tight, although a USA Today-Gallup poll has McCain up by 10 points among likely voters. That's a huge jump for the Republican nominee.

Here to talk about the polls, the electoral map, the running mates and the convention bounce is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Let's start with the polls. Before St. Paul, before Denver most polls gave Barack Obama a slight edge, often within the margin of error, but an edge. John McCain now seems to have gotten a big bounce out of his convention. What accounts - is it all Sarah Palin that accounts for it?

LIASSON: I think Sarah Palin is a big part of it. She definitely energized his base. And polls now show that the enthusiasm gap is closing. It had been strongly leaning to Democrats. Now Republicans are coming up to meet it. We don't know yet if this a true McCain surge or a Palin-fuelled convention bounce.

And Obama got a bounce, too, out of his convention, and it faded. So we have to wait for that. But since 1960, we should point out that post convention bounces are - only been predictive of the outcome about a half the time.

SIEGEL: About half the time. OK.

LIASSON: Yeah, so…

SIEGEL: There are two candidates...

LIASSON: Yeah, yeah. SIEGEL: ...major candidates, running. By the way, enthusiasm gap - you mean until this time more of the people who supported Obama were more enthusiastic about doing so.

LIASSON: Yes, by big margins. Yes.

SIEGEL: If Sarah Palin helped energize and make Republican voters more enthusiastic, will that help John McCain win over independent voters - and disaffected Democratic voters, for that matter?

LIASSON: That is the big question. I think with a certain group of downscale white voters - some of them were the Hillary Clinton voters in the primaries, Wal-Mart moms, for instance - she should do well, and the Republicans have very high hopes for her. But among pro-choice, more upscale Hillary Clinton women, for instance, probably not.

So far, the polling around Palin is very partisan. No surprise. Democrats don't like her very much, and Republicans do. I think the big question for McCain is whether she can help him with independents or whether he can find a way to do better with them, because there are not enough Republicans this time around to have a base strategy election. He needs independents because, of course, Democrats lead in party ID by about 10 points this year. ..TEXT: So can McCain start moving to the center now with just 50-odd days left? And also the question is there for Obama. Can he make up for his deficits with small-town, white, rural voters by expanding the electorate, or does he have to do something different with his message?

SIEGEL: Now, one of the axioms of reporting about presidential elections is that after everyone spends a month or so obsessing over the running mates, it is always pointed out that people vote for the top of the ticket, not for the running mate, and that, indeed, if vice presidents elected presidents then Lloyd Bentsen would have dragged Michael Dukakis into the White House in 1988. It doesn't happen that way.

LIASSON: It usually doesn't happen that way, although Palin did something for McCain that was absolutely necessary. You can't go into battle for those crucial independent voters without having your base locked down. So she at least did that for him. But I think that in the end, we probably will find the same thing about Palin and Joe Biden.

The differences, though, that the way vice presidents are used, usually they're sent to secondary markets. The ticket campaigns together for like one or two days, and then they separate. That's not happening here. She not only fired up the Republican base, she seems to have fired up John McCain. They have stuck together...

SIEGEL: She draws crowds.

LIASSON: She draws crowds. And so they've been campaigning together, which shows some of the strength that she brings to the ticket.

SIEGEL: And on the other side, Joe Biden as the running mate for Barack Obama.

LIASSON: Joe Biden, I think, is being used in a much more traditional way - trying to reach out to those white, blue-collar voters where he has some roots.

SIEGEL: Let's talk about the electoral map. We don't have a single national election. We have 51 separate elections in the states and in the District of Columbia. How is the map of where the candidates are going to contest this the most, how is it altered by the post-convention situation?

LIASSON: Well first of all, the map had been favoring Obama. He had a number of previously red states to compete in. Some of them, of course, have dropped off the list, like Alaska. But there are states that Republicans can't win without, that Obama is looking to win. And polls show he's very competitive. Ohio, Republicans have to win Ohio. If he can't get Ohio, he could still make up the gap by winning other states where Kerry fell short - some combination of Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Virginia. On McCain's part, he's looking at New Hampshire, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

I think of the big three battleground states - Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio - both candidates need to win two. And I think that white, working-class voters in all those states, all three states, are waiting to hear a stronger economic message from both candidates.

SIEGEL: Finally and briefly, 57 days to go, the big events will be presumably the debates.

LIASSON: I think the debates are hugely important this year. Forty million people watched both Obama and McCain on television. McCain broke records, actually, for a convention speech. And I think the audience for the debates will also break records.

SIEGEL: Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson,

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