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Are Tightening Polls A Sign Of A John McCain Surge?

The tracking polls seem to show the presidential race tightening. Rasmussen numbers released this morning show Barack Obama ahead of John McCain by only 50 percent to 47 percent--the narrowest margin in Rasmussen polls for more than a month and the first time McCain has been over 46 percent since September 24 (nine days after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and two days before the first debate). Gallup's tracking released yesterday showed McCain behind by only 49 percent to 47 percent on its traditional-turnout model but behind by a much larger 51 percent to 44 percent on its expanded model.

John Zogby's numbers yesterday showed a 49 percent-to-44 percent margin for Obama, considerably smaller than the one he had a few days earlier.

Against these numbers one must weigh polls in battleground states showing Obama doing just about as well as he has been since the financial crisis hit in mid-September. And the respected Pew Research poll shows Obama out in front by a whopping 53 percent to 39 percent. I'm reluctant to dismiss Pew as an outlier, but if you do, the average of recent polls looks like Obama 49.6 percent, McCain 44.8 percent, a margin of 4.8 percentage points--the smallest Obama margin in RCP averages since September 30.

This sounds plausible to me. Hypothesis: The McCain "Joe the Plumber" high-taxes issue is having some impact. So are doubts, kindled by a typically verbose Joe Biden comment, about how Obama would handle an international crisis. Is this the beginning of a McCain surge? Possibly. It's beginning to look like something more than statistical noise. But it's hard to be sure at this point.

By Michael Barone