Barack Obama's lead over John McCain evaporates as Democrats fight
A month after clinching the Republican nomination, Senator John McCain of Arizona appears to be enjoying a honeymoon with American voters, wiping out the national lead that Barack Obama, the Democrat hopeful, once had over him according to a new Associated-Ipsos poll.
The new buoyancy of the McCain campaign may have less to do with the senator, of course, and more with the relentless mutual point-scoring between Mr Obama and his rival, Hillary Clinton, as they battle for votes in the coming Pennsylvania primary.
While Mr Obama showed a double-digit lead over Mr McCain in a similar poll taken in late February, the latest numbers show them exactly tied at 45 per cent each. Perhaps more alarming for the Obama camp, the survey has Mrs Clinton with a slight edge with 48 per cent to 45 per cent for Mr McCain.
The survey has also rekindled alarm in the Democratic Party that the continuing warfare between its two remaining candidates may be inflicting sufficient damage to give Mr McCain a window to defeat whichever of the two of them ends up running for the White House in November.
It is no coincidence that this week has seen the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, stepping up his own attacks on Mr McCain. Unveiling his own polling taken in 17 battleground states, he contended that voters consider the Republican "weak" and "wishy-washy" on key issues, particularly the economy. Voters are also voicing concern about his age, Mr Dean said. At 72, Mr McCain would be the oldest person ever to be newly elected to the presidency.
"John McCain is a weak candidate," Mr Dean told reporters, unveiling the poll results. "He is very far out of step with the American people on issues like the economy, the war in Iraq, and health care."
Unfettered by any further primary contests, Mr McCain is back on the road, visiting often far-away corners of numerous states to begin selling himself to voters. Yesterday, he addressed a rally at the municipal airport in Lubbock, Texas.
Of course, the dynamics of the presidential contest could change again once the identity of the Democratic nominee has been settled. In particular, Republican grandees are expressing concern that, for the first time in some decades, the Democrats – particularly if Mr Obama ends up prevailing – could be in a position significantly to outspend Mr McCain in the campaign running to November.
"There are not enough zeroes to define how badly we are going to be outspent," Eddie Mahe, a former deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, warned yesterday.
With the Pennsylvania primary only 10 days away, there remains little saying how each Democratic candidate will fare, with some observers still giving Mr Obama an outside chance of catching up with Mrs Clinton in the state she was always slated to win and possibly beating her. That remains a long-shot for Mr Obama, but if he succeeds it would surely be a knock-out punch for Mrs Clinton.
She continued last week to struggle to get her campaign back on message, and her husband did not help by reviving the fuss about Mrs Clinton "misstating" she had come under fire in Bosnia.
Mr Obama remained on his bus tour through Pennsylvania yesterday, trying to burnish his economic platform with a call for "say-on-pay" legislation that would increase scrutiny of fat pay packets awarded to corporate executives.
In a populist pitch, he said last night: "We've seen what happens when CEOs are paid for doing a job no matter how bad a job they're doing. We can't afford to postpone reform any longer."