Starting Gate: Oh, Ohio

After a flood of national polls this week which have established that John McCain came out of the convention crunch at the very least even with Barack Obama for the first time, if not slightly ahead. It's September, less than eight weeks from Election Day and polls are beginning to take on more importance as a gauge of the race.

Of course those national polls are unimportant compared to those being conducted state-by-state where the election will be decided. There's a new wave of those out today from two news organizations that paint a similar picture of a very tight race.

McCain's selection of Sarah Palin and the rallying of the traditional conservative base appears to have given the senator a boost in some of those red states which the Obama campaign has targeted. In Virginia, a new CNN/Time magazine poll has McCain up 50 percent to 46 percent, while another poll by the same shows him leading in Missouri by a similar 50 percent to 45 percent margin. In Florida, a new Quinnipiac poll has McCain up even more, 50 percent to 43 percent.

But there are troubling signs for McCain in the state of Ohio, which played such a pivotal role in re-electing President Bush in 2004. A Quinnipiac poll there has Obama leading 49 percent to 44 percent. Quinnipiac also has Obama up by a slim 48 percent to 45 percent margin in Pennsylvania while CNN/Time has him leading McCain in New Hampshire 51 percent to 45 percent and up 49 percent to 45 percent in Michigan.

For all the excitement generated by the Palin pick among Republicans, these polls numbers should be have a cooling effect. It's encouraging for McCain that in two big "blue" states – Pennsylvania and Michigan – remain highly competitive. Pulling either of them into the GOP column would highly complicate Obama's path to the White House. But losing Ohio, so vital to GOP hopes in the past, would make winning one of those other large states essential.

The Buckeye State is where Hillary Clinton scored a big but too-late victory in the primary season and where questions about Obama's ability to attract those white, blue-collar, Reagan Democrats started really being raised. His lead in Ohio at this point in the campaign is perhaps the most significant of all these polling results.

Of course there will be plenty more polls out in the coming days and weeks, each one given more import than the last. In the meantime, check out our Ways To Win interactive map and plot your own path to the presidency for both candidates.

Around The Track

  • Obama will have lunch with former president Bill Clinton today in New York. McCain will attend a 9/11 memorial service in Shankville, Pennsylvania this morning. The candidates will appear together at Ground Zero this afternoon and take part in a ServiceNation candidate forumn tonight.
  • In response to an audience member at a town hall yesterday who said he was glad Hillary Clinton was not chosen to be Obama's running mate, Joe Biden went further than just defending the New York Senator, CBS News' John Bentley reports. "She is qualified to be president of the United States of America," Biden said. "She's easily qualified to be vice president of the United States of America and quite frankly it might have been a better pick than me."
  • Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm will play Sarah Palin in debate preparations with Biden, the Washington Post reports. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that a "squad" of McCain policy advisers has accompanied Palin back to Alaska to help her prepare for interviews and debates.
  • "If Mr. Obama wants to win, he needs to remember he's running against John McCain for president, not Mrs. Palin for vice president." – Former Bush adviser Karl Rove, with some advice for Obama.