Obama Holds Lead in Key States

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(l. to r.): Steve Pope / Getty; Joe Raedle / Getty

Presidential candidates John McCain, left, and Barack Obama

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, Barack Obama has held or increased his lead in four key states won by President Bush in 2004 — Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia — while he has lost ground in West Virginia, according to the latest series of TIME/CNN battleground-state polls conducted by Opinion Research Corp. The polls suggest that the McCain campaign's recent attempts to link the Democratic nominee to former domestic terrorist William Ayers and the liberal organizing group ACORN (which the GOP accuses of perpetrating voter fraud) are not resonating with most voters.

Obama gained the most ground in North Carolina, where he now leads John McCain among likely voters by 51% to 47%, up 4 percentage points from earlier this month, when a similar poll showed the two tied at 49%. In Nevada, Obama expanded his lead to 51% to McCain's 46%, up 1 percentage point from September. Similarly, in the crucial swing state of Ohio, Obama leads the Arizona Senator by a 50% to 46% margin, an increase of 1 percentage point from his lead earlier this month. In Virginia, a state that increasingly looks to be solidly in Obama's corner, the Illinois Senator remains 10 percentage points ahead, 54% to 44%. Still, Obama's ability to make inroads in red states does appear to have some limits; he lost ground in West Virginia — a state his campaign has said they are just starting to contest — and now trails there by 41% to McCain's 53%, which more than doubles McCain's September lead of 49% to Obama's 44%.

McCain's failure to move the needle in the four key states likely reflects, in part, the fact that his latest attacks on Obama are not having much impact. Although a majority of voters in Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina had heard of Ayers and ACORN, less than one-third of voters said such issues would affect their votes.

The races in Ohio, North Carolina and Nevada — while showing Obama trending up — remain inside or very close to the margins of error for those states. In Virginia, Obama's lead is far outside the margin of error, and McCain's lead in West Virginia is also solid. The polls of Nevada and Ohio have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, while those of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia have margins of error of plus or minus 4 points.

The polls were conducted over the phone from Oct. 19-21. In Nevada, 911 registered voters and 700 likely voters were polled. In North Carolina, 940 registered voters and 644 likely voters were surveyed. Pollsters in Ohio spoke to 938 registered voters and 737 likely voters. In Virginia, 927 registered voters and 647 likely voters were polled. And in West Virginia, 893 registered and 674 likely voters were polled.

(Click here for full results.)

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