As the US presidential election inches closer Democratic nominee Barack Obama not only continues to hold a significant lead over John McCain, in national polls but has caught up with his Republican rival in rural areas too.
While CNN's average of four recent national polls puts Obama 8-point ahead, 50 per cent to 42 per cent, over McCain, another poll shows the Democrat neck-and-neck among rural voters in 13 swing states, a potentially key group for winning the White House.
Obama, who had been trailing by 10 points in US rural areas, now leads McCain 46 to 45 per cent in 13 swing states, according to the Centre for Rural Strategies poll, commissioned on behalf of the National Rural Assembly.
Democrat analyst and pollster Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research said that the poll conducted Oct 1-21 shows erosion in Republican support among rural voters and that this is a good sign for Obama.
"Barack Obama is running very competitively among this group of rural voters, and along with his general advantage in metropolitan areas, this will be enough to put him over the top," she was cited as saying by the Centre.
"We've been saying that the Democratic candidate has to lessen the Republican advantage among rural voters, and Obama has done even better than that. He's pulled the race to a tie among these voters."
Republican strategist and poll consultant Bill Greener agreed that to win the race McCain must perform better among rural voters than was the case during the three week period covered by the study. However, Greener told the centre there are already indications McCain is making up ground with rural voters.
"During the three weeks of the study, economic issues greatly impacted support for Senator McCain among rural voters," Greener said. "But I do not think you can use this data to state where things stand on Friday.
"The good news is recent, snapshot data from other polls indicates to me that McCain is indeed recouping support among rural voters. To win, McCain must maintain strong support from rural voters. That is simple arithmetic."
Republican President George W Bush won among rural voters in battleground states by 15 points in 2004, and that margin was critical in his victory in key states such as Ohio.
Dee Davis, president of the Centre for Rural Strategies, which commissioned the poll, said the rural voters also hold the key to the 2008 election. "How these candidates do in the rural parts of states like Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania is likely to determine who wins this thing," he said.
"Much of rural America was in a bind before the Wall Street meltdown," Davis said. "With rural in play, it would be helpful for these candidates to talk about ways rural America could contribute to a national recovery."
Meanwhile, another CNN state polls of polls released on Thursday shows Obama has an advantage over McCain in five of the six states ranging from 10 points in Pennsylvania (51-41 percent) to 8 points in Virginia, 7 in Ohio, 4 in Nevada and 3 points in Florida.
In West Virginia, McCain is ahead but just by two points with the support of 47 to 45 per cent of likely voters with 8 percent unsure about their choice for president