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McCain, Obama in dead heat with 6 weeks to go, poll says

Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama remain locked in a close battle with less than six weeks remaining until Election Day, according to a national poll.

Republican McCain leads his Democratic opponent by 45 to 43 percent -- a statistical dead heat -- according to the Franklin & Marshall College Poll conducted for Hearst-Argyle television stations, including Tribune-Review news partner WTAE-TV.

The telephone poll of 1,320 registered voters was conducted Sept. 15 through Sunday and has an error factor of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

"This translates into results within the sample error, meaning a close race that could be won by either candidate," said poll director G. Terry Madonna. "There are at least 15 percent of the voters who could go either way and decide this election."

A rolling average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics showed Obama leading by 3.7 percentage points -- 47.8 percent to 44.1 percent.

A Fox News survey showed Obama leading by 6 points, and an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed the Democrat with a 9-point lead.

Of those surveyed, 44 percent listed the economy as the issue that would most influence their choice for president.

A substantial majority -- 73 percent -- of registered American voters believe the country is "on the wrong track," and more than a third (38 percent) say they are worse off financially than last year.

A Franklin & Marshall poll conducted in June showed Obama leading McCain by 6 points, 42 percent to 36 percent.

"The largest changes in candidate preference since our June survey are among fundamentalist Christians, white men and white women," Madonna said. "McCain's advantage over Obama among fundamentalist Christians has increased from 8 points to 30 points."

Race appears to be a factor in the campaign.

The Republican's lead among white men increased from 7 point to 28 points, and his lead among white women jumped from 5 points to 17 points.

McCain, 72, an Arizona senator, leads among men (52 to 37 percent), those older than 55 (48 to 37 percent) whites (53 to 35 percent) fundamentalist Christians (60 to 30 percent), military veterans (58 to 29 percent) and Southerners (50 to 36 percent).

Obama, 47, an Illinois senator and the son of a white mother and black father, leads among women (48 to 38 percent), those between 18 and 34 years old (49 to 39 percent), Catholics (45 to 37 percent), blacks (85 to 2 percent), and those living in the Northeast (53 to 35 percent).

After the economy, the poll showed voters are concerned with moral values (10 percent) and the war in Iraq (9 percent) as issues that will influence their vote for president.

Obama leads McCain -- 55 to 31 percent -- among registered voters who are primarily concerned with the economy, and the Democrat leads 51 to 39 percent among those primarily concerned about the Iraq war. McCain leads among "values voters" 73 to 18 percent.

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