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Obama, McCain predict a tighter race and a new poll confirms it

October 21, 2008 |  6:04 am

Often on the stump now, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his vice presidential running mate Joe Biden have started to predict a tightening in the polls in coming days, polls that show the freshman Illinois senator with a six- to-eight point lead nationally.

That's a smart strategic move because if the gap does narrow, Obama and Biden look prescient and their supporters likely don't go into a last-minute tailspin at the thought of losing after leadiThe Republican presidential ticket of Senator John McCain of Arizona and Governor Sarah Palin of Alaskang by so much in money, ground operations and poll numbers this fall.

And if the gap does not narrow, the Democratic ticket looks all that stronger.

Trouble is, off-camera in his weekend interview with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace, the Republican nominee John McCain said the same thing. In fact, he said his campaign's polls have already detected a slight shift.

He better hope that's so, as some research shows the Democrats at or near the magic number of 270 electoral votes, according to state polls and a hypothetical Electoral College count.

Presidential races often do tighten near the end, as Americans (including the growing numbers of early voters) confront their actual individual decisions after 22 months as political spectators.

Now comes a statistical inkling that the closing is starting to occur, but in a strange way. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll of 1,058 adults taken Friday through Sunday and out Monday showed Obama's eight-point lead from early October had been trimmed to five points, 51-46.

But two interesting points from within the poll. It's not so much that McCain gained as that Obama slipped.

Also, the numbers show that for the first time a minority see McCain as carrying on the policies of Pres. George W. Bush, a theme the Obama campaign has relentlessly driven home all summer and autumn.

Put another way, for the first time 51% of Americans now see McCain as his own man, less likely to continue the unpopular Bush presidency.

The number seeing McCain as Bush III is now 49%, down from 56% in early October.

The separation from the Texan was obviously a key McCain goal in the last debate last week. Remember: Look, I am not George Bush. If Sen. Obama wanted to run against President Bush, he should have run four years ago.

That's a line many Republicans privately confide they think the Arizonan should have been using for months. Whether there's enough time -- and money -- left to drive that point home sufficiently in 14 days is the open question.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credit: Associated Press