NASHVILLE — With just 37 days to go until Election Day, Republican presidential candidate John McCain continues to hold a double-digit lead in Tennessee over Democrat Barack Obama, a new statewide poll shows.
U.S. Sen. Obama, D-Ill., has made some gains in recent weeks, but the survey of 625 registered, likely voters shows U.S. Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., and his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, still lead Sen. Obama and his vice presidential pick, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., by 16 points in the Volunteer State.
The Sept. 22-24 poll shows Sen. McCain leading Sen. Obama by 55 percent to 39 percent. Six percent remain undecided. The telephone survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
“McCain’s got a double-digit lead in Tennessee and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that’s going to flip,” said Brad Coker, managing director of the Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., which conducted the poll for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
“The state is just more conservative,” Mr. Coker said of Tennessee, which is not considered a battleground state. Tennessee voters didn’t vote for Al Gore when he ran for president in 2000, he noted.
Mr. Gore, a Democrat, was a former U.S. representative and senator from Tennessee.
Poll respondent Putnam Green, 84, of Memphis, said he likes Sen. McCain, a Navy flier who became a prisoner of war in Hanoi during the Vietnam War, because he considers him a “patriot ... who has good ideas.”
Mr. Green, who said he has hearing problems, had his wife, Bettye, speak for him. Mrs. Green, 82, said the couple are conservative Republicans.
“Really, he (McCain) has been his own man,” said Mrs. Green. “Like he says, he is a maverick, independent.”
Mrs. Green said she doesn’t like anything Sen. Obama says.
“I think he talks out of both sides of his mouth,” she said.
Shirley Duncan, 72, a poll respondent from Rockford, Tenn., said that while she doesn’t like either candidate, she likely will support Sen. Obama.
The Democratic-leaning independent cited concerns over the deteriorating economy, the war in Iraq and gas prices.
“The reason I support him is we need to get out of what we’re in right now ... Any Democrat, I’d support them right now,” she said.
Sen. McCain, she said, is “part of what’s in there already. An extension. You know what I’m saying?”
On the national front, a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week shows Sen. Obama leading Sen. McCain by 48 percent to 43 percent nationwide.
PALIN VIEWED MOST FAVORABLY
The Times Free Press poll shows 58 percent of Tennesseans view Sen. McCain favorably while 26 percent see him unfavorably. Sixteen percent were neutral, according to the poll.
Sen. McCain’s running mate, socially conservative Gov. Palin, was viewed favorably by 59 percent of poll respondents. Twenty percent viewed her unfavorably. The one-point advantage Gov. Palin had over Sen. McCain is considered statistically insignificant because of the poll’s 4 percent margin of error.
But the Alaska governor’s presence on the ticket is comforting to poll respondent Rich Guider, 35, a businessman and self-described social conservative from Murfreesboro, Tenn. Putting Gov. Palin on the ticket, Mr. Guider said, “kind of makes my vote feel a lot more better.”
The poll found that more Tennesseans view Sen. Obama unfavorably — 44 percent — than the 38 percent who see him favorably.
His running mate, Sen. Biden, didn’t do much better, with 38 percent of poll respondents having an unfavorable impression of him and just 33 percent saying they view him in a favorable light.
State Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said she isn’t surprised by what the poll’s head-to-head comparisons show.
“Sen. McCain has always enjoyed a rather comfortable lead here, primarily because I think he does well-reflect Tennessee voters and what they’d like to see in their next president,” she said.
The poll also found a large majority of whites — 64 percent — backed Sen. McCain, who is white, while just 30 percent support Sen. Obama, who is black.
Black respondents, meanwhile, overwhelmingly back Sen. Obama. Ninety-one percent of black voters said they support him, while only 4 percent said they support Sen. McCain.
“It is a factor, without question,” Mr. Coker said of race. To say it isn’t, “is being pretty naive. But to say whether it’s decisive in this race, probably not.”
Sen. Obama’s Tennessee campaign director, Jerry Martin, did not respond to a request for comment.
Among other findings, the Mason-Dixon survey shows Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin have done a better job of rallying fellow Republicans to their cause — 89 percent — than Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden have with their fellow Democrats.
The poll showed 16 percent of Democrats back the GOP ticket. Fifty-nine percent of independents said they back Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin.
Seventy-eight percent of Democrats say they back Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden while 9 percent of Republicans back the Democratic ticket. Thirty-two percent of independents support the Democratic ticket.
“For the Democrats, you’ve got some defections in terms of just party identity,” said Dr. Robert Swansbrough, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “A number of Democrats are having doubts.”
Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin also have a lead among women, with 51 percent backing the GOP ticket versus 42 percent for the Democratic ticket. Younger voters ages 18 to 34 preferred Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden by 54 to 40 percent. But the McCain-Palin ticket had a majority among voters ages 35 and above.
Traditionally, Republican East Tennessee preferred Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin over the Democrats by a 60-33 percent margin. They led in Middle Tennessee by 54-41 percent. The contest is closest in West Tennessee, but Sen. McCain still led Sen. Obama by 49-46 percent.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...