McCain Losing Ground In Arizona

John McCain's home state has been considered a lock for him since he won the Republican presidential nomination. But a new poll says the race with Barack Obama in the state is now a statistical dead-heat. Could John McCain lose his home state?

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is Day to Day. I am Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. The presidential candidates are focusing on a key battleground state today, Florida. They are both there campaigning.

CHADWICK: Even as Senator McCain is forced to defend states he thought were sure things, including his home state, Arizona. There's a new poll there that says the race with Barack Obama in Arizona is now a statistical dead heat. NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS: A month ago, the polls in Arizona were all over the place. One had McCain up by 21 percent. Another had him up by seven percent. Either way, McCain was holding his own. But the latest Arizona poll shows McCain with 46 percent and Obama with 44. That's within the three point margin of error. Arizona State Professor Bruce Merrill conducted the poll. He says new voters, especially young people, Latinos, and new residents, are registering independent and Democrat in what was a reliably red state.

Dr. BRUCE MERRILL (Walter Cronkite Media Research Center, Arizona State): I think there's significant changes in the demographic. And basically, that's been exasperated in this election cycle by the collapse of the economy.

ROBBINS: Arizona ranks near the top in home foreclosures and depends heavily on the ailing construction industry. Merrill says voters he polled are blaming Republicans.

Representative RAUL GRIJALVA (Democrat, Arizona): It surprises me that we've made up that much ground that quick.

ROBBINS: Democratic Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva is surprised because Arizona has not been considered in play, so it's gotten few resources from either campaign. Arizona has 10 electoral votes, as many as it's heavily contested neighbors, Nevada and New Mexico, combined. So now that he sees an opening, Grijalva has asked the Obama campaign to spend more money in Arizona during the last week.

Representative GRIJALVA: The door to door, the phoning, it's going well. We'll need some help and some media purchases. They're evaluating that. We'll see what happens in the next day or two.

ROBBINS: Sean McCaffrey would like to see more resources in Arizona, too. McCaffrey is executive director of the Arizona Republican Party.

Mr. SEAN MCCAFFREY (Executive Director, Arizona Republican Party): There's not a state in the nation that on either side of the isle in some way shape or form wouldn't want to have more money coming in from their candidate or their party.

ROBBINS: But McCain has less money so less flexibility to shift it out of long-time battleground states. McCaffrey notes that Arizona has 200,000 new voters just since the primary last February.

Mr. MCCAFFREY: That's 65,000 Democrats, 66,000 new independents and 59,000 new Republicans.

ROBBINS: In the past, McCain has gotten a lot of support from independents, and McCaffrey's hoping they'd break for McCain in the last week. The new poll, however, shows Obama has been closing the gap by attracting independents and women to his campaign.

Mr. MCCAFFREY: The battle is definitely on to turn out every single one of those people.

ROBBINS: A high turn out could affect other Arizona races. Democrats picked up two congressional seats in 2006 and hope to add another this election. That would give the state its first Democratic majority in Congress in 45 years. But clearly, neither side thought Arizona would be in play in the presidential contest. Sean McCaffrey still predicts McCain will end up with a double digit win. A defeat in his home state, of course, would be a huge blow, even if it ends up being only symbolic. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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