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Why White House race is a close call

  • Story Highlights
  • Democrat Barack Obama enjoys strong media coverage, turnout, fundraising
  • Republican John McCain faces uphill battle, given unpopularity of George W. Bush
  • But polls put the two candidates neck and neck, or Obama only slightly ahead
  • McCain may get elected because many voters aren't ready to back Obama
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By Jonathan Mann
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You can't keep a good man down.

That might be the simplest way to sum up John McCain's campaign for the US presidency right now. He's not winning, but he's running stronger than anyone knows how to explain.

McCain is a fascinating figure with a compelling personal and political story.

He was a feisty young pilot shot-down in Vietnam, where he was imprisoned for nearly six years. As a 71-year-old Senator, he is still an outspoken figure, willing to wage a lonely battle without, or even against, his own party.

Right now, McCain is in an uphill fight for the presidency and ought to be doing badly, hurt by an unpopular Republican incumbent, two wars and a terrible economy.

By contrast, Barack Obama is a charismatic candidate who is setting records for fundraising and voter turnout, buoyed by enormous media attention.

But McCain, according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, is ahead among likely voters, 49 to 45 per cent.

Other polls still give the lead to Obama but even they routinely give him only a few percentage points and none puts him above 50 per cent.

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That's even more remarkable after that tumultuous week of travel, during which Obama was virtually endorsed by the prime minister of Iraq, greeted by a crowd of 200,000 people in Germany, and given breathless coverage by the American media all the way.

The pollsters are looking at the race very differently from the way the press is, and they see something close to a tie.

CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser says the Democrats are "dumfounded that this election is closer than it should be, at least according to the national polls."

So what's happening?

Obviously, people like McCain personally in a way that has nothing to do with his party, his support for President Bush or the wars the president has been leading.

But also, think of the US election as a referendum on Obama that Obama isn't winning. He's doing well, but many Americans still won't vote for him and McCain is the beneficiary.

A lot of Americans simply like John McCain and aren't ready to back Obama.

Is that enough to get a man elected president? It might be.

All About Democratic PartyBarack ObamaJohn McCainRepublican Party

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