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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Barack Obama is pulling away from John McCain. That's according to our latest poll of likely voters in battleground states. It's just a snapshot, but it comes at an important time. When Democrat Stan Greenberg and Republican Glen Bolger polled likely voters in the same states back in September, right after the conventions, McCain had a small lead. Now Obama has a big one. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: In our 15 battleground states, John McCain's three-point lead in September has evaporated. Barack Obama now has an eye-popping 11-point advantage in our list of swing states. Democrats Stan Greenberg.

MONTAGNE: The race is broken open. Some big things have happened that have, you know, closed off the campaign that McCain could have run. He's lost independents and now losing them by 12 points. He was the one Republican this year who could have won independents and now he's losing them by double digits.

LIASSON: Both candidates are receiving the same levels of support from their own partisans, 90 percent of Democrats in our poll support Obama, 91 percent of Republicans support McCain. But there are fewer Republicans now than there were in 2004, when George W. Bush won these same states by 15 percent. Our Republican pollster Glen Bolger says the political environment is simply toxic for the GOP. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In 2004, George W. Bush won these same states by 4 percentage points.]

MONTAGNE: The mood of the country - it's the most negative that we've ever seen in the history of public polling - never seen the numbers this consistently low.

LIASSON: Both our pollsters agree that the financial crisis has been the single most important event in the presidential race. Glen Bolger.

MONTAGNE: It is an economic 9/11 and it has changed what everybody has talked about.

LIASSON: Before the financial meltdown, Republicans were beginning to gain traction on issues like offshore oil drilling, but no longer. Stan Greenberg.

MONTAGNE: There's no doubt that the financial crisis changed this campaign markedly and I think decisively.

LIASSON: Mike Trebowski from Langhorne, Pennsylvania, is a registered Republican. And he's one of 16 percent of likely voters in our poll who are still undecided. He says he hasn't heard either candidate talking candidly enough about the meltdown on Wall Street.

MONTAGNE: I feel that they are both being very defensive and not trying to rock any kind of boats, not coming out with saying hey, we should penalize, fine or throw somebody in jail that we can determine was responsible or knew about some of these loans.

LIASSON: There was one question in the poll where Republicans did better than Democrats. We asked voters whether, since the Democrats will probably still control Congress after the election, if it would be better to have a Democratic president working with Congress to get things done, or have a Republican president keeping Congress in check. Forty percent chose the Republican, 32 percent chose the Democrat. Glen Bolger.

MONTAGNE: It just shows that voters do not trust Washington and they don't trust unchecked power by either party.

LIASSON: Dana Smith is one of those voters. She is a registered nurse from Cincinnati, Ohio who hasn't yet made up her mind.

MONTAGNE: Overall, I would prefer a check, and that may be what ends up swinging my vote back to McCain, because I don't want an all Democratic everything, honestly.

LIASSON: But we also asked the question about divided government another way. Asked whether they preferred Barack Obama to be president and work with a Democratic Congress or John McCain to be a check on the Democratic Congress, Obama won narrowly, 49 percent to 44 percent. Stan Greenberg.

MONTAGNE: There's some power in the argument that there needs to be balance in Washington, they watched what happened in the six years in which Republicans controlled everything in Washington, and things went very badly for the country.

LIASSON: Voters may prefer generic Democrats to Republicans right now. But their continued preference for divided government is one reason McCain is spending more time talking about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he barnstorms around the country in the last days of the campaign. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: We've got a lot of transparency on this poll. You can get a look at the questionnaire that produced those results as well as the results by going to npr.org.

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