McCain ahead in rural swing states

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According to a new poll released Monday, McCain leads Obama 51% to 41% among rural voters in battleground states. Those numbers are virtually unchanged since the Center for Rural Strategies/National Rural Assembly released an earlier poll in May.

However, there is some indication that McCain's ticket is gaining rural popularity after choosing running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Two-thirds of those surveyed said Palin represents the values of rural communities, and 54% said she was ready to be vice president and assume the presidency if needed.

Republican George W. Bush relied on strong rural margins in battleground states to help him win the White House in 2000 and 2004. Obama is faring better in the rural battleground in 2008 than did Democrat John Kerry, who was down by 13 points against Bush at a similar point in the 2004 campaign.

Bill Greener, a Republican adviser for the Rural Strategies poll, says McCain is on his way to amassing a large enough rural margin to take the general election in November. "Every trend line indicates that John McCain is headed toward the level of support among rural voters that will be required for a victory in November," said Greener. "On every issue and personal measure, Sen. McCain showed considerable positive movement -- the economy, handling of taxes, being on your side, bringing about the right kind of change and sharing values -- all demonstrate that Sen. McCain is headed in the right direction."

But Democrat Anna Greenberg says that Obama is remaining competitive and that current economic turmoil could favor the Democratic candidate. She said McCain's overall improvement did not translate into more voters preferring him in the November election.

"We think that's because he has failed to make an effective argument on the one issue rural voters care about most -- the economy," she said. "Rural voters seem to be trying to decide which candidate can best address their economic concerns, and that means the rural battleground could be more competitive than we saw in 2004."

"Rural voters will play an important role in this election," said Tim Marema, vice president of the Center for Rural Strategies. "The question is whether the campaigns will translate that importance into a conversation about rural issues and the future of rural communities."

The top issue on rural voters' minds is the economy and jobs, selected by 51% of the respondents. Other top issues were energy and gas prices (25%), the war in Iraq (21%), health care (18%) and terrorism and national security (12%). Moral values and illegal immigration ranked last on the list of voters' concerns, with 9% each.

The survey polled 742 respondents Sept. 16-18 from rural parts of the battleground states of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. The survey carries a margin of error of +/- 3.6 at a 95 percent confidence level.

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