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Starting Gate: The Bump Is Over

John McCain has had a heck of a ride over the past couple of weeks and seen his political fortunes rise in the polls and estimation of the voters. That, it appears, is all over with now and we head into the most crucial stretch of the campaign with Barack Obama holding a narrow, but shaky, lead.

The latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows Obama with a five point lead nationally. That result comes after a roller-coaster period of time that saw both conventions and vice presidential selections. Obama went into the conventions thee points ahead, saw his lead reach eight after Denver, the watched as McCain surged to a two point lead coming out of his convention.

Without getting too deeply into the numbers, some bottom line points from the poll include: Sarah Palin's impact on the overall race has waned, if not turned slightly negative for McCain. Women have moved back into the Obama column overall and while she has made the Republican base more enthusiastic about the ticket, a majority of voters do not see her as prepared to be the vice president.

The underpinnings of the election also continue to work heavily in Obama's favor. After a couple of weeks of McCain and Palin touting their "maverick" credentials, it's Obama who still has a large lead when it comes to who voters think will bring about real change. Almost half of those surveyed said they felt that McCain would continue President Bush's policies and voters are all-but shouting about their concerns over the economy.

In the states, things have shifted back to Obama's favor as well, according to a series of recent polls. In a reversal of trends we've seen in the last week, these new polls have the candidates tied in Florida, show Obama up slightly in Ohio and McCain with just a one-point lead in North Carolina. Those are mostly states McCain must win just to be in the game on Election Day.

So, about two weeks after the craziness of the conventions, after all the speeches and the Palin surprise, we're pretty much back where we've been throughout this campaign – a close race that at least slightly favors Obama. Now, we head into yet another period of time that may well do more to decide the election than anything else. Starting next Friday, voters will have four chances in three weeks to take measure of the tickets (three for the presidential candidates, one for their running mates). Any bumps coming out of those events are not likely to fade away.

Around The Track

  • Asked for some foreign policy specifics at a town hall meeting in Michigan, Sarah Palin responded with generalities, reports CBS News' Scott Conroy.
  • "This is a shocking invasion of the governor's privacy and a violation of law. The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these e-mails will destroy them." – The McCain campaign's statement responding to hackers who broke into Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail account.
  • Are "maxed-out moms" the hit new demographic of this presidential election? Time magazine says yes.
  • Former Bush adviser Karl Rove says Obama is spending too much time attacking John McCain. "This election is not fundamentally about Mr. McCain. It is much more about people's persistent doubts concerning Mr. Obama," he writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "The only way to reassure them is to provide a compelling, forward-looking agenda."
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