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TOP OF THE TICKET / DON FREDERICK AND ANDREW MALCOLM

McCain stumps in Iowa -- but why?

October 05, 2008|DON FREDERICK AND ANDREW MALCOLM

A mere five weeks from now, as night sweeps across the continent on Nov. 4, the 2008 presidential campaign presumably will be decided by the results in a handful of key states.

Iowa doesn't seem likely to be one of those. So we were left puzzled by a John McCain itinerary that found him spending a good part of Monday and much of Tuesday in that locale.

We can only assume that he and his political advisors know something that the polls of that state's voters aren't detecting. They'd better, because with one exception, several recent surveys in Iowa have shown Barack Obama solidly ahead in the fight for its seven electoral votes.

If McCain and his camp don't have good reason to dispute these findings, it's hard not to view the roughly 24 hours he spent in Des Moines and vicinity last week as a waste of time at this point in the White House race.

Not only does winning Iowa loom as a difficult challenge for the Republican ticket, it's hardly key to victory.

Obama began with a big advantage in the state over McCain. The 2006 midterm election showed a drift toward Democrats there. And in early 2007, with an eye on a strong showing in Iowa's caucuses, Obama began organizing his support among Iowans.

His victory in the caucuses showed how successful his efforts were -- and ensured that a ground-level operation was in place that could then focus on the general election.

McCain, by contrast, did not invest much time or energy in the state's GOP caucuses -- and was rewarded with a fourth-place finish.

His selection of Palin as his running mate helped excite Iowa Republicans about his candidacy, but recent polls haven't shown a major shift toward McCain.

Here's the bottom line: McCain can afford to have the state's electoral votes subtracted from the base of 286 that Bush won in 2004 and still win -- as long as he rebuffs Obama's aggressive efforts to win Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada.

And McCain can deal Obama's hopes a virtual death blow by winning Pennsylvania.

So again, we wonder . . . what attracted McCain to Des Moines last week, rather than Wilkes-Barre, Pa.?

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Dueling polls in Virginia

On Wednesday, a Time magazine/CNN poll of 684 voters in Virginia conducted within the last week gave Barack Obama an eye-popping 9-percentage-point lead over John McCain, 53% to 44%.

A new survey of 625 voters in the same state over roughly the same time frame by the Mason-Dixon Polling & Research company showed it McCain 48%, Obama 45%.

Whom to believe?

Perhaps the best posture to take in tracking the fight for the Old Dominion's crucial 13 electoral votes is to keep in mind the aggregate for recent polls compiled at Pollster.com. Those results: Obama, 47.8%; McCain 47.5%.

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Excerpted from The Times' political blog Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topofthe ticket.

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