John McCain has begun rallying dispirited Republicans behind him, while Democratic rival Barack Obama has made scant progress building new support, leaving the presidential race closer than before, with Obama leading 45 percent to 43 percent, according to a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll.
The survey highlights Obama’s vulnerability on the question of his readiness to lead the nation. Less than half of registered voters polled think the first-term Illinois senator has the right experience to be president, while 80 percent believe McCain, a four-term senator from Arizona, does.
The poll also illustrates some racial undercurrents that confront Obama as he strives to become the first black president. Nine percent of voters say they would feel uncomfortable voting for a black candidate. Most voters say they know people who feel that way. Nearly one in five thinks the country is not ready to elect a black president.
Despite his challenges, Obama holds many advantages on the eve of two critical events: his selection of a running mate and his formal crowning as the Democratic nominee at the party’s national convention next week in Denver. By Labor Day, Obama hopes to regain – and build upon – the momentum he had after he defeated Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in June.
For now, voters favor Obama on the economy, the issue they rank as most important. Also, independents, a crucial swing bloc, are leaning toward Obama. And Obama’s supporters remain more enthusiastic than McCain’s, a sign that the Democratic candidate may be able to turn out more voters.
The Republican Party’s dismal standing under President Bush also remains a drag on McCain’s candidacy: Seventy-five percent of voters say the country has veered onto the wrong track.
“McCain has more experience, but experience isn’t everything,” poll respondent John Ritts, of Towanda, Pa., said in a follow-up interview. A retired teacher and former Republican whose dissatisfaction with Bush drove him to switch to independent, Ritts supports Obama.
Obama’s 45 percent to 43 percent advantage over McCain falls within the margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. (In June, Obama was ahead by 12 points in the Times/Bloomberg poll, but other surveys at the time showed him with a narrower lead.)
More striking, however, is the drop in Obama’s favorable rating. It has slid from 59 percent to 48 percent since the June poll. The bulk of that shift stems from Republicans souring on Obama amid ferocious attacks on the Democrat by McCain and his allies.
In recent weeks, McCain forces have portrayed Obama as a naive celebrity who is unprepared to be president in dangerous times. A Navy aviator who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, McCain has also suggested that Obama would put personal ambition ahead of America’s best interests.
With that backdrop, the poll found 35 percent of voters have questions about how patriotic Obama is. Just 9 percent wonder how patriotic McCain is.