by Mark Silva
There is more at stake in Ohio than the prospects for the Democratic Party's presidential candidates in Tuesday's primary election there.
In the bellwether state that typically rings clear with the nation's preferences for a president, a tight race looms for the Democratic nominee and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, according to the Ohio Poll.
In the battle for Ohio's 20 electoral votes, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois stands virtually even with McCain in a general election matchup tested in the Feb. 21-24 survey sponsored by the University of Cincinnati. The score: Obama 48, McCain 47.
In a matchup of Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and McCain, the Republican draws 51 percent of the Ohioans surveyed, and Clinton 47 percent.
While Obama supporters may take these results as evidence of what Obama was saying in last night's debate in Cleveland -- that he represents his party's strongest contender in a race with McCain -- the Clinton-McCain matchup sits within the margin of error in this poll -- plus or minus 3 percentage points -- portraying either Democratic candidate as a powerful nominee for the party in that expected November contest with McCain.
Yet, in the final few days of the Ohio campaign, this marginal advantage that Obama holds over Clinton may well play into the calculation that Ohio Democrats make about the viability of the two candidates:
The Ohio Poll found that Clinton holds an eight-percentage point advantage over Obama among likely Democratic voters, yet nine percent were telling pollsters that they support former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and some were undecided -- raising the question of where these voters will go on Tuesday.
The poll also reveals that the presidential campaign will unfold full bore in Ohio once again.