Poll: McCain Overtakes Obama With Five Point Lead Amid Other Polls Showing Obama Weakening

A new Reuters/Zogby poll indicates Republican Senator John McCain has now shaken up the Presidential race: he is no longer the underdog and has taken a 5 point lead over Democratic Senator Barack Obama — who is seen as steadily weakening in a series of other recent polls.

McCain’s lead in the polls means the race’s dynamics have now changed. The “given” that, with the political and economic factors aligned against McCain and the GOP, the Democrats were virtually-certain to win now vanishes. The poll also shows Obama steadily losing ground among some key groups — a consequence of the past few weeks when McCain has been on the offensive and Obama has been on the defensive…or away on vacation.

Meanwhile, the poll says Obama and the Democrats shouldn’t assume a four-person race will help Obama: his polling is just as tepid.

As Russian tanks rolled into the Republic of Georgia and the presidential candidates met over the weekend in the first joint issues forum of the fall campaign, the latest polling includes drama almost as compelling – Republican John McCain has taken a five-point lead over Democrat Barack Obama in the race for President, the latest Reuters/Zogby telephone survey shows.

McCain leads Obama by a 46% to 41% margin.

And McCain not only enjoys a five-point edge in a two-way race against Obama, but also in a four-way contest including liberal independent candidate Ralph Nader and Libertarian Bob Barr, the poll reveals. In the four-way contest, McCain wins 44% support, Obama 39%, Barr 3% and Nader 2%.

This poll is in stark contrast to just one month ago when Obama led McCain 47-40 percent and in a four-person race led by 10 points. It shows Obama is losing ground among Democrats, women, young voters, southerners and Catholics.

McCain’s surge follows a month in which he has aggressively portrayed Obama as an out-of-touch elitist and celebrity not prepared to be President. McCain also continues to accuse Obama of being willing to lose in Iraq in order to win the election. While Obama was on vacation last week, McCain took the spotlight, talking tough about Russia’s military action against the Republic of Georgia.

Pollster John Zogby: “Since Obama returned from his overseas trip, it seems like McCain has thrown all the punches. Clearly, the blows have landed. In recent days, Obama is fighting back, going after McCain on the economy, the issue voters care about most. McCain has changed the dynamic of the race heading into the two conventions. That puts more pressure on Obama to go to Denver and effectively define himself and McCain.”

A look at some other polls brings similarly bad news for Obama and Democrats, who due to Obama’s performance and Republicans greater party unity could be poised to lose yet another election that earlier had been painted by pundits as a near sure thing. Clearly, the devil is in the “near”. Just look at these:

–A new L.A. Times poll put the race at a statistical dead heat and a map by Rove&Co shows Obama losing ground in some keys…altering previous calculations showing him with a comfy electoral vote lead.

The CNN poll of polls shows McCain has cut Obama’s lead in half.

The latest Gallup Daily tracking poll shows Obama down to a one point, statistically meaningless lead over McCain, 45 percent to 44 percent.

Rasmussen still shows Obama with a three point lead over McCain but notes a movement benefits McCain:

While the race for the White House remains stable, there is movement beneath the surface. The number of voters who say McCain is too old for the job has declined while the number who say Obama is too inexperienced has moved up a bit. Voters are now evenly divided as to whether Obama has enough experience for the job.

This means McCain’s use of Senator Hillary Clinton’s so-called “Three A.M.” strategy stressing Obama’s inexperience is reaping political dividends for McCain.

In an extensive CNN analysis, Republican David Gergen, who advised Presidents of both parties in the White House, noted that the game has now changed given a variety of factors, including McCain’s recent appearance with Obama at Saddleback Church — and that it is now conceivable McCain could win the White House:

Heading into the candidates’ appearances on Saturday night at Saddleback Church, the conventional wisdom in politics was Barack Obama should have a clear upper hand in any joint appearance with John McCain — one the young, eloquent, cool, charismatic dude who can charm birds from the trees, the other the meandering, sometimes bumbling, old fellow who can barely distinguish Sunnis from Shiias.

Well, kiss that myth goodbye.

Gergen’s argument: Obama didn’t lose supporters by his appearance, but McCain has shown he is formidable because he was “on fire” at Saddleback.

At Saddleback, Obama surely held on to his base support but McCain strengthened his and probably appealed to some undecideds, too.

In short, the tide is moving for the first time in the Republican direction. And the realization is setting in that McCain might just win.

He offers these suggestions on what the Democrats will need to turn the trending — due to not just McCain’s performance but Obama’s increasingly weak performances when judged beside McCain’s on the stump, in terms of advisers’ political smarts, and at Saddleback:

* Obama must select a running mate who gives a lift to his campaign and can also hammer home a message in the convention and in the vice presidential debate this fall. He definitely needs a fighter by his side. (For my money, Hillary Clinton looks better and better; if not her, Joe Biden is probably the best fighter — perhaps Evan Bayh, or a surprise choice.)

* The Democratic convention in Denver has to be a roaring success, not only uniting the party but sending a much clearer, crisper message about why 4 more years will be 4 more years of tears.

* Obama himself must find his voice again, not only in his acceptance address but in the debates. He needs to bring passion as well as inspiration, a clear sense of what the choice is, and a compelling sense of why he is strong enough as well as wise enough to lead the country through tough times.

Can it be done?

Remember that weeks ago some pundits considered McCain’s campaign hopeless due to the obstacles he faced, his campaigning style, and his seeming inability to seize and hold onto controlling the day’s political news story. It has been turned around with negative campaigning (which clearly works), Obama’s seemingly being a step behind McCain and his advisers, Obama being on the defensive more than on the offensive and McCain regaining the fire in his belly. So it can be done…as McCain has shown.

But at this point it looks like Barack Obama is yet one more Democrat — added to candidates such as Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry — who allowed Republican strategists to negatively brand them in the summer months. The difference: most of those candidates were solidly ahead in some polls going into their political conventions.

Is the game over already? Talk Left’s Big Tent Democrat, one of the mosts perceptive bloggers on the left, writes:

Having been joined now by a chorus of Obama blogs in concern with Obama’s post partisan unity schtick campaign, I am somewhat amused that no one noticed the problem before.

Obama has experience in that message no doubt (“Hillary will say or do anything to get elected”) but it won’t work on McCain because the Media will not play along. The problem is Obama has never gone after Republicans and specifically tied them to Bush (he of the 25% approval rating.) People are making this more complicated than it is. All you have to send as a message is not McCain – flip flopper or anything like that, you say McCain – Bush’s third term. Period, That is the negative branding that should be driven home every single day. That should be Obama’s message every single day. But Dems don’t do negative branding, they just get branded.

And on Election Day?

Obama is likely to win. What he has done is lost the chance to put the election away already. The political conditions are such that Obama could run the worst campaign in history and still win. The GOP brand is that bad. But he is right that Obama squandered these two months.

An optimistic assessment?

Obama, his advisers and spinners have shown self-assurance. What they have to show now is political smarts because current polls now suggest a campaign that has been outfoxed and is flat-footed.

Just weeks ago, McCain had been accused by many of squandering the long Democratic primary season and remaining stagnant in the polls. Now it can be argued that Obama has squandered his lead — and let McCain effectively define him before he has effectively defined McCain.

UPDATE: MSNBC’s First Read nails the shift:

Nevertheless, there is no longer this widespread belief among the wise guys and gals of both parties that we’re all just sitting around waiting for this race to break in Obama’s direction. The polls — as well as the money race — suggest otherwise. The political fundamentals (the mood of the country, the enthusiasm gap, Bush’s approval rating) still favor Obama. But something has changed where (1) Obama can’t make many more mistakes and expect to win and (2) the McCain camp thinks it can win. That wasn’t the case a few months ago.

UPDATE II: Obama’s problems with Hillary Clinton backers show no sign of abating…and in fact are increasingly glaring. The Chicago Tribune:

A brother of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and local Democrats who backed her unsuccessful presidential campaign socialized privately Monday with a top surrogate of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The private gathering featured Carly Fiorina, Mr. McCain’s top economic adviser, and took place at the Dunmore home of political consultant Jamie Brazil, a longtime friend of Mrs. Clinton’s family who has signed on as paid national director of Mr. McCain’s Citizens for McCain Coalition.

The attendees included Tony Rodham, Mrs. Clinton’s youngest sibling, his wife, Megan, and their two children; attorney Kathleen Granahan Kane, who coordinated Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign in Northeast Pennsylvania during the primary election; and Virginia McGregor, sister of Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty.

With the Democratic National Convention less than a week away, the gathering raises questions about the support Illinois Sen. Barack Obama can expect from former local supporters of Mrs. Clinton, who dominated at the polls in the Northeast in the April primary election. Mrs. Clinton won 74 percent of Lackawanna County Democrats to Mr. Obama’s 26 percent.

HERE’S A CROSS-SECTION OF OTHER WEBLOG OPINION ON RECENT POLLS:

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey:

Obama is in a free-fall. McCain got to the heart of the question about Obama, and especially after the crisis in Georgia, he has voters wondering whether Obama is up to the task of running the presidency as his first executive job in politics. Even a strong VP pick may not help reverse that perception — and could make it worse by overshadowing the nominee. Democrats may not have been in a weaker position at convention time since 1984.

The Other McCain:

The shift began during the Europe trip, when Team Maverick went on the attack on drilling, then unleashed the “celebrity” message — and kept repeating it, even after Team Obama screamed “racism.”

And let me remind Allah of his prophecy: “Let Obama’s numbers drop another three or four points and we’ll see how they feel about negative ads then.”

Daily Kos’ JFKDemocrat looks at the new poll and analyzes Obama’s missteps. Here are the first lines of each point:

1. While Obama is the source of more coverage it is McCain who is driving the campaign agenda.
2. The Clintons are silently campaigning against Obama; they want him to lose plain and simple.
3. The inability to hang Bush & Cheney around McCain’s neck is hurting.
4. The trip to Europe and the middle-east at the same time was overkill.
5. The VP selection process was too long; the fact is Obama should have rolled this out soon after he came back from his trip to Europe.

He also writes:

The bottom-line is that we are heading into the fall campaign much closer than I would have expected. Don’t expect Obama to get a big bounce out of the convention or the debates. The way this thing is shaping up is that the only way that Obama will win is if he really does have a superior ground game. Now, in fairness I trust Obama and his team, but even really smart and capable people make mistakes. I hope I am wrong, but I have been around politics a very long time and the fact is we are Democrats, no one knows how to screw up a sure thing like us.

Ann Althouse on the latest poll:

And this poll was taken from August 14-16, before the Saddleback Civil Forum which, it seems, will McCain. Obama needs a smashingly good convention week.

Americablog’s Robert Arena has an extensive poll analysis which needs to be read in full. A few key quotes:

While some here think everything is going just fine, and that Obama has a secret plan lying in wait, I ask you to think back a year ago. Imagine if someone had told you that the most charismatic Democratic speaker in a decade would be in a dead-heat with a Republican has-been corrupt waffler – you would have laughed in their face. After eight years of George Bush? No way, people are fed up – that’ll never happen.

Well, that’s the reality today. This race is a dead heat and is up for grabs both in the national polls as well as in key states like Ohio, Florida, Missouri, etc. Face reality folks – something isn’t working.

AND:

Not all is lost folks, Obama has time and money to make a shift. But if you thought that somehow this year was going to be different – something would change and somehow the American electorate would look completely different this year than any other year, the numbers today just don’t show that. This isn’t a transformative election, it’s another hardscrabble, claw out each and every vote, election. To win that kind of election, you need to fight for every vote and fight hard. That’s why you hear the concern you hear from Josh Marshall, John, Joe, etc. And it’s backed up by years of experience watching the Republicans make Democrats look weak – Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry. That line of attack works when not countered and we were defeated. None of us want that in 2008.