It may turn out to be an outlier but today's Washington Post/ABC News poll is sure to raise some eyebrows about where this presidential race stands. For the first time since the fall campaign began in earnest, Barack Obama has stretched out a sizable lead in a major national poll.
The Post poll not only has Obama with a nine-point lead, it has him over the 50 percent mark, ahead of John McCain 52 percent to 43 percent. That's up slightly from the 48 percent to 43 percent lead Obama held in last week's CBS News/New York Times poll but the trend toward the Democrat appears clear – and it appears to be growing.
As it has in every poll this year, the economy remains the number one concern by far for voters and the Post poll may reflect the underlying advantage Obama has on that topic. With the pending bailout of Wall Street and the extreme nervousness of the markets, it's no wonder that half of those polled by the Post say the economy and jobs will be the issue which determines their vote in November.
In this atmosphere, the importance of Friday night's presidential debate cannot be overstated. McCain may be catching a bit of a break with the format, decided long ago, which decreed that that topic of the first debate would be focused on foreign policy. No doubt the economic situation will remain a big part of it (the financial health of the country is, after all, a national security issue too).
But even though foreign policy should dominate the night, it just raises the stakes even higher for McCain. If he does not score some points here on national security and world affairs, he may not have any more chances to shore up his strengths in an area already fading as a concern for voters. In a span of twenty days, there will be three presidential debates and one vice presidential face-off. After Friday, the format of the second debate will be a "town-hall" sort of affair and the final one is supposed to focus on domestic issues.
A look at the recent polls – which are starting to matter more and more the closer Election Day gets – clearly shows that Obama has begun creating some separation from McCain in national polls and has improved his position on a state-by-state level. The first debate provides McCain's campaign a first crack at stopping or reversing that movement. And it may be their best chance.
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