Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton are still the top choices among Arizona voters, but the Republican and Democratic races appear to be narrowing as the state’s ongoing presidential preference election nears its conclusion.
The vote is set for Feb. 5, but elections officials mailed hundreds of thousands of early ballots to voters starting Jan. 10. Two separate statewide polls released within three days of each other this week show that both the Republican and Democratic races are growing tighter.
However, both polls showed that a significant number of voters still remain undecided, so voter turnout on the election day could affect the races, particularly on the Democratic side, said Earl de Berge, research director for Behavior Research Center, which conducted the Rocky Mountain Poll, one of the two surveys.
Clinton outpaced Barack Obama by 6 percentage points among voters “most likely to vote,” according to the Rocky Mountain Poll, conducted Sunday through Thursday and released Friday. She garnered 38 percent of respondents’ support, while Obama attracted 32 percent.
Clinton held a wider, 21-point margin among “high efficacy” voters, according to a poll conducted by Arizona State University/KAET-TV (Channel 8) earlier in the week. Clinton drew 45 percent of their support, while Obama bagged 24 percent. That poll was conducted Jan. 17 through Sunday, and was released Tuesday.
Clinton likely would benefit with a strong turnout of older, white and Hispanic voters, de Berge said. Obama would get a boost from an influx of younger, non-Hispanic minority and middle- to low-income voters.
Nearly all of the polling was conducted before Clinton made a well-publicized campaign stop Tuesday evening in Laveen.
An estimated 10,000 people lined up for a half-mile outside Cesar Chavez High School gymnasium hoping to see the New York senator. Most supporters were turned away after the gym reached capacity hours before Clinton took the stage.
“We still have a commanding lead, and we’re encouraged by the lead,” said Dana Kennedy, spokeswoman for Clinton’s Arizona campaign.
“The pattern has been in almost all the states that the closer we get to the election, the more that it tightens up. And we’ve always run the campaign as if we’re behind in the polls,” she said.
On the Republican side, McCain led the field by 13 percentage points, according to the Rocky Mountain Poll released Friday. McCain notched 39 percent support, while his closest competitor, Mitt Romney, attracted 26 percent support.
In comparison, McCain led Romney by a substantially higher 23 percentage points in the ASU poll released Tuesday. McCain earned 41 percent, while Romney trailed with 18 percent.
When taking into account the margins of error in both surveys, the results are fairly similar, said Doug Cole, vice president of High Ground, a Phoenix-based political consulting firm that is backing the Arizona senator.
“John McCain has always enjoyed strong support here in Arizona,” Cole said. “He works hard here. He has decades of electoral history with the voters, decades of connecting with the voters and we continue to do so leading up to the Feb. 5 primary.”