Obama grabs big leads in key battleground states


Democrat Barack Obama is building widening leads in battlegrounds Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, in new polls released Wednesday in the trio of states that could be the key to victory on November 4.

The surveys reveal new momentum for the Illinois senator against Republican John McCain, as the rivals dash back to Washington to vote on a 700 billion dollar Wall Street bailout package.

The Quinnipiac University polls suggest Obama won Friday’s presidential debate and that McCain’s vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin is suffering from sliding popularity, after a stunning initial impact on the race.

They also find that voters trust Obama more to handle the financial crisis rocking the US economy, and he seems to be convincing Americans he is ready to be president.

“It is difficult to find a modern competitive presidential race that has swung so dramatically, so quickly and so sharply this late in the campaign,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute.

The surveys show that in Pennsylvania, Obama leads McCain by a gaping 54 percent to 39 percent after the debate, compared to 49 percent to 43 percent before the debate.

He is up 51 percent to 43 percent in swing state Florida, compared to a 49 to 43 percent lead before Friday’s first of three high-stakes presidential debates.

And in Ohio, Obama is up eight points, 50 percent to 42 percent, after having led by 49 percent to 42 percent before the clash in Mississippi.

The trio of swing states — which have a history of going either Republican or Democrat and swinging presidential elections — are vital stepping stones to the White House.

Nationally, the Pew Research Center gave Obama a seven point lead Wednesday over McCain with 49 to 42 percent.

While a separate Washington Post/ABC national poll found Obama holds a slim lead around the country over McCain, drawing 50 percent support from likely voters against 46 percent for McCain.

With the economy the election’s dominant issue, Obama holds a large lead over McCain among the 51 percent of voters who prioritize economic issues, that survey found.

McCain, Obama and Democratic vice presidential pick Senator Joseph Biden are all due for an intriguing close encounter in the Senate when the vote on the bailout, originally rejected by the House of Representatives, goes ahead late Wednesday.

No candidate has won the presidency since 1960 without securing two of the three battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, amid repeated campaign visits from Obama and McCain five weeks from election day.

The surveys showed that more than 84 percent of voters in each state said the debate had not changed their mind — but by margins of 13 to 17 percent, they said Obama did a better job in the clash.

Crucially for the Illinois senator, 15 to 27 percent of prized independent voters in each state said he had won the debate against McCain.

“Senator John McCain has his work cut out for him if he is to win the presidency and there does not appear to be a role model for such a comeback in the last half century,” Brown said.

“Senator Obama clearly won the debate, voters say. Their opinion of Governor Sarah Palin has gone south and the Wall Street meltdown has been a dagger to McCain’s political heart,” he said.

Obama’s advance in Pennsylvania will hearten Democrats of the vote who fear that McCain and Palin could swing the state into their column on election day by wooing blue collar voters.

“Pennsylvania is back in its role as the most Democratic swing state in the 2008 election mainly because voters believe that Senator Obama will do a better job handling the economy,” said Clay Richards, also an assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute.

But with 34 days still to go any number of events could still rock the race, such as the impact of the economic crisis, hurricanes Ike and Gustav and the jobless figures on the campaign in recent weeks.

“If the next 34 is like the last 34, we’re in for quite a ride,” said NBC-Wall Street Journal co-pollster Neil Newhouse.

The Quinnipiac polls among likely voters in the three states were conducted in two groups, between September 22 and 26, and September 27 and 29. The maximum margin of error was 3.4 percent.