Poll: Obama Gains in Key Swing Counties

Sen. Barack Obama has made new gains in two key counties that could tip the balance in the swing states of Nevada and North Carolina, according to the results of a new Politico/InsiderAdvantage poll.

Voters in Reno, Nevada’s Washoe County prefer Obama over Sen. John McCain by a double-digit margin, 50 percent to 40 percent. A previous Politico/Insider Advantage survey, taken October 9, showed the race deadlocked in Washoe with Obama ahead of McCain, 46 percent to 45 percent.

In Wake County, N.C., home to Raleigh and its suburbs, Obama leads McCain by nine points, 52 percent to 43 percent. As in Washoe, this new result represents a turn toward the Democratic nominee: Politico’s last survey of Wake County Oct. 9 had Obama on top by six points, 50 percent to 44 percent.

President George W. Bush won both these counties in 2000 and 2004. In his second presidential bid, Bush won Wake by a thin, 51 percent to 49 percent margin, and bested Sen. John F. Kerry in Washoe, 51 percent to 47 percent. As the second-most populous counties in their respective states, Wake and Washoe are critical to McCain’s chances.

Despite Obama’s lead in these areas, both Nevada and North Carolina remain competitive at the statewide level according to the new Politico/InsiderAdvantage poll.

According to the survey, McCain and Obama are tied at 47 percent in Nevada. Obama posts a statistically insignificant one-point lead in North Carolina, where he is ahead of McCain, 49 percent to 48 percent.

The RealClearPolitics polling average currently has Obama leading in both states, ahead in North Carolina by an average of 2.3 points and in Nevada by an average of 4.2 percent.

InsiderAdvantage pollster Matt Towery suggested that Obama’s strength among suburban voters in areas like Wake and Washoe counties was the engine driving his competitiveness in these states.

“Obama is hanging in and challenging in the traditional Republican states of Nevada and North Carolina because of his ability to perform well in suburban and exurban areas,” Towery said.

The fact that Obama was increasing his advantage in the Raleigh and Reno areas even as the statewide races in North Carolina and Nevada remained close, suggested that McCain was picking up support in less populous areas in order to stay even, according to Towery.

“In those suburban, metropolitan areas, Obama seems to be accelerating his lead,” he said, “which leads me to believe that in those less suburban, metropolitan areas McCain is making up his ground.”

In these key counties, Obama posts wide leads among female voters and independents, and holds even with McCain among male voters.

Women in Washoe County prefer Obama over McCain, 56 percent to 36 percent, and independents are breaking for the Illinois senator by an even more overwhelming, 57 percent to 21 percent margin. Statewide in Nevada, the candidates are statistically tied among both groups, with McCain posting a surprising, if narrow lead among female voters.

In North Carolina’s Wake County, Obama leads among female voters by a narrower 51 percent 43 percent, but maintains a strong, 57 percent to 31 percent advantage with independents.

As in Nevada, Obama’s advantages with these groups are less pronounced on the statewide level in North Carolina, with women picking him over McCain, 51 percent to 46 percent, and independents choosing him by an identical margin.

Towery also noted that Obama was performing better with older voters, aged 65 and above, than he had in previous polls.

“Seniors, for whatever reason, were drawing much more even,” he said. “The only explanation I can give you for that is that senior voters are most likely to be watching television coverage of the race.”

Together, North Carolina and Nevada represent 20 electoral votes – as many as the key battleground state of Ohio, which decided the 2004 election. Given Obama’s current standing in the Electoral College – he has solid polling leads in states adding up to 264 electoral votes – winning either North Carolina or Nevada could be enough to secure the presidency.

Both the Obama and McCain campaigns have been focusing their efforts on the two states recently, with McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, scheduled to visit Nevada Tuesday, in the wake of a Monday visit there by former President Bill Clinton.

“We’re gonna do everything we can in these last two weeks to not let this slip away,” Clinton told a crowd of Obama supporters, according to local media accounts.

McCain held a telephone town hall meeting with Nevadans on Sunday and has suggested he will also visit Reno again before Election Day.

On Sunday, Obama spoke in Fayetteville, N.C., in Cumberland County. Palin also campaigned in North Carolina last Thursday, in the towns of Elon and Greensboro.

Previous Politico/InsiderAdvantage polling has shown Obama even with or ahead of McCain in a lengthy list of pivotal bellwether counties, including Wake; Washoe; Bucks County, Pa.; Franklin County, Ohio; Hillsborough County, Fla.; Jefferson County, Co.; St. Louis County, Mo. and Prince William County, Va.

The Washoe County poll, conducted Oct. 19, tested 476 respondents with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. In the statewide Nevada poll, conducted Oct. 20, 690 voters responded to the survey, resulting in a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.

In the Wake County poll, conducted Oct. 19, 414 voters responded to the survey, with a margin of error of 5 percent. Statewide in North Carolina, conducted Oct. 20, the sample consisted of 698 respondents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.

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