Two polls released Wednesday — less than two weeks shy of Election Day — suggest Barack Obama has pulled comfortably ahead of John McCain in Maine despite the Republican’s recent attention to the state.
Just days after GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin held a rally at Bangor International Airport, a SurveyUSA poll sponsored by WCSH 6, WLBZ 2 and the Bangor Daily News showed Obama with a 54 percent to 39 percent edge among likely voters.
Similarly, a survey taken by Pan Atlantic SMS Group Oct. 14-16, immediately before Palin’s visit, had Obama on top 51 percent to 39 percent.
“Given how things are going nationally, these numbers seem to be about right,” said Amy Fried, a political scientist at the University of Maine. “I think there would have to be something fairly major in terms of an event or a significant gaffe [by Obama] for things to change.”
Two polls taken in late September showed a much closer race statewide with the Democratic presidential nominee holding leads of four and five points, respectively. That was before the nationwide economic crisis and three head-to-head debates, which appear to have sent more voters toward Obama than McCain.
Toby McGrath, Maine’s state director for the Obama campaign, said the race is far from over.
“With less than two weeks to go, the race is competitive and it is more important than ever to get out and early-vote, volunteer, make calls and talk to your friends and neighbors about why Barack Obama will bring the change we need to Washington,” he said.
Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, the McCain campaign co-chairman in Maine, said he didn’t think this week’s polls were indicative of what he is seeing throughout the state and the nation.
“I don’t think either candidate is putting much stock in polls this time of year,” he said. “The fact is, the McCain campaign feels the race is very close on a national level and is very close in Maine.”
Results from recent nationwide polls have been mixed. An Associated Press poll released Wednesday found Obama leading McCain by just one percentage point at 44 percent to 43 percent.
A Washington Post-CBS poll released Monday had the race at 53 percent to 44 percent in favor of Obama. A CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll released the same day showed Obama leading 49 percent to 43 percent.
The recent SurveyUSA poll contacted 642 likely Maine voters Oct. 19-20 and had a margin of error of 3.9 percent.
When broken down by congressional district, Obama had a seemingly insurmountable 22-point lead in the 1st District. The 2nd District, which is more rural and generally more conservative, showed a tighter contest with the Illinois senator ahead by six points.
Maine is one of only two states (Nebraska is the other) that splits its electoral votes. The winner of each congressional district gets one vote, and the winner of the state gets the other two.
However, since 1972, when Maine adopted that system, the state’s four electoral votes have never been split. Al Gore carried the state by five points in 2000, and John Kerry won by nine points in Maine four years ago.
The poll by Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group didn’t have as big a gap among congressional districts. In fact, Obama’s advantage was the same in the 2nd District (53-40) as the 1st (50-37).
That poll was based on computer-assisted telephone interviews conducted Oct. 13-16 with 400 registered Maine voters who said they were likely to cast ballots on Nov. 4. It had a margin of error of 4.9 percent but also had a larger percentage of undecided voters (8 percent) than the SurveyUSA poll (3 percent).
The biggest indication of Obama’s surge in Maine, according to the Pan Atlantic survey, was his appeal to independent voters, a group he now leads by 19 points.
The SurveyUSA poll also showed Sen. Obama has made gains among both women and men in Maine. In the four weeks since the last SurveyUSA poll in Maine, Obama has increased his lead among Maine women from 10 to 23 points. Among men, Obama trailed by one point last month but now leads by six.
The polls asked which campaign has been run more negatively and 56 percent indicated McCain and Palin have been more negative compared to only 20 percent for Obama and his vice presidential pick, Sen. Joe Biden.
“The McCain campaign has continued to make dishonorable and false attacks to try to distract voters from McCain’s plan to continue Bush’s failed economic policies,” said Jessica Santillo, Maine communications director for Obama. “Even Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have denounced these false smears, which Mainers have found deeply offensive.”
Tardy was sympathetic to concerns and agreed that negative politicking doesn’t sit well with Maine voters, but he said some issues, such as Obama’s ties to alleged domestic terrorist William Ayers, should be in play.
“Notwithstanding a tactic that I disagree with, I don’t think the campaign should be backing off the message,” he said.