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Poll: Presidential race is about even in Arizona

Both campaigns have mostly ignored McCain’s home state

PHOENIX – Through most of the presidential campaign, few people seriously questioned Republican John McCain’s prospects of winning his home state. But that assumption is being challenged as Democrat Barack Obama has gained momentum in other states.

A poll released Tuesday by KAET-TV and Arizona State University says that McCain is about even with Obama in the state. Forty-six percent of registered voters support McCain, while 44 percent favor Obama. Nine percent of voters were undecided.

Bruce Merrill, the Arizona State pollster who conducted the survey, said even though McCain has a favorite-son advantage, the political dynamics in Arizona during this election cycle aren’t much different than other states facing hard economic times.

“I just think the economy is the overwhelming important issue that’s driving most of the vote,” said Merrill, who took a poll in April showing McCain ahead of Obama with an 11-point advantage. The latest statewide poll of 1,019 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 23 through Oct. 26 and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Thus far, the race for Arizona’s 10 electoral votes has been a low-wattage affair. Neither candidate has spent a lot of time or money campaigning in the state.

Arizona is attracting far fewer appearances by surrogates for the candidates than during the last presidential election. Neither campaign is buying air time from local TV stations, though their commercials are running in the state as part of national ad buys.

Both campaigns have sent volunteers from Arizona to New Mexico, where the race is close and where both campaigns have invested heavily.

Kurt Davis, a top McCain organizer in Arizona, said the poll will prove to be wrong, because McCain has a long-standing relationship with voters that will lead him to victory here. “Barack Obama will get some votes in Arizona, but John McCain will win the state,” Davis said.

Kelly Paisley, director of Obama’s Arizona campaign, said the poll will motivate Obama supporters to go to the polls to cast ballots for the Democratic nominee.

Davis said the McCain campaign – which has sent contributions raised in Arizona to McCain efforts in more competitive states – has no plans to spend advertising dollars in Arizona.

Political scientists in Arizona are divided over whether McCain is vulnerable back home.

Fred Solop, chairman of the politics and international affairs department at Northern Arizona University, said he doesn’t believe McCain is vulnerable in Arizona because Obama hasn’t targeted the state and McCain has ties with voters here.

William Dixon, head of the University of Arizona’s political science department, said a week ago he would have strongly doubted Obama’s chances of winning the state, but the Democrat’s momentum in other states over the last week has improved his prospects here.

For McCain to lose in Arizona, Republicans who are discouraged by GOP prospects would have to stay home on Election Day – and Obama supporters would have to put on a strong effort to get voters to the polls, Dixon said.

“If that happened, then he could lose Arizona,” Dixon said.

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