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Obama pads lead in Pennsylvania, poll shows

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By David M. Brown and Mike Wereschagin
Monday, Oct. 20, 2008

Democrat Sen. Barack Obama leads Republican Sen. John McCain by 8 percentage points in Pennsylvania, according to a poll that shows the candidates' support solidifying 15 days before Election Day.

Obama leads McCain by 48 percent to 40 percent with 7 percent undecided and about 5 percent preferring other candidates or declining to give a preference, according to the Susquehanna Polling and Research poll released exclusively to the Tribune-Review. An August Susquehanna poll gave Obama a 5-point advantage.

Obama's expanded lead in the latest poll is outside the error margin of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The telephone survey of 700 likely voters was conducted Thursday through Saturday.

The 8-point lead shows a closer race than the double-digit margins in several other recent independent polls, but Susquehanna president Jim Lee says the outlook remains bleak for McCain, who continues to pour significant resources into Pennsylvania in a long-shot bid to capture its 21 electoral votes.

"It will be very difficult for McCain to close that gap enough to win," even though the Arizona Republican is faring slightly better than Obama among the remaining undecided voters, Lee said.

Obama's lead in the vote-rich counties around Philadelphia is twice as large as John Kerry's was when he won the state in 2004, Lee said. President Bush won 19 percent of the vote in Philadelphia in 2004, while McCain is polling at 11 percent there.

"This is where the race is won," Lee said.

McCain's best chance at winning might lie in Western Pennsylvania. McCain plans to return to the area Tuesday for the first time since August, with an afternoon rally at Robert Morris University in Moon.

McCain leads Obama in most of Western Pennsylvania, excluding Allegheny County, where Obama leads by 8 points.

"If McCain can really close the math in Allegheny County and win the rest of the Pittsburgh media market by an even bigger margin than Bush won four years ago, I think McCain has a chance to catch Obama. I just don't think that's likely to happen," Lee said.

Voters are making up their minds, the poll shows. Forty-two percent say they'll definitely vote for Obama, and 35 percent say the same about McCain. That's a 5-point increase for both candidates. The number of undecided voters fell from 10 percent to 7 percent -- a 3-point drop that mirrors the increase in Obama's overall lead.

The percentage of voters with a favorable opinion of McCain remains at 44 percent, unchanged since August. His unfavorability ratings, however, rose 7 points during the past two months, to 41 percent.

"That shows he has a ceiling, and it'll be really hard to go above that," Lee said.

Obama's favorability rating rose to 52 percent, a 7-point increase, while his unfavorability rating rose 2 points.

About 70 percent of voters say jobs and the economy are among the one or two issues that will most influence their votes. About 20 percent said the same of health care and the Iraq war.

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