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Obama catches McCain in rural United States

ST. PAUL - Rural Americans trust Barack Obama to fix the country's economic problems more than John McCain, leading to a surprising statistical tie between the two presidential candidates in a rural battleground states poll.

The poll, released Thursday by the Center for Rural Strategies, shows Democrat Obama leading 46 percent to 45 percent, essentially erasing McCain's 10-point lead from a month earlier.

By a 49 percent-to-40 percent margin, rural voters surveyed said Obama would do a better job of handling the economy than his Republican rival. However, they liked McCain's ability to deal with the Iraqi war by a 53-43 margin.

President Bush won among rural swing-state voters by 15 points four years ago, which went a long ways to ensuring his re-election.

"It is a little surprising," said Dee Davis, president of the Kentucky-based rural organization. "McCain has got to get back close to Bush's numbers if he is going to have a shot."

The poll was conducted over the past three weeks in 13 rural swing states, including Minnesota. Poll results are not detailed enough to break out state-by-state information.

"If these numbers hold up, and these numbers are very competitive in rural areas, it is going to be very hard for McCain to win," Davis said.

McCain lost rural support at the same time national polls show the race becoming a toss-up. That, Davis said, gives rural voters more power.

"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," Democratic analyst Anna Greenberg said. "He's pulled the race to a tie among these voters."

Republican analyst Bill Greener said McCain must do better among rural voters to win.

"During the three weeks of the study, economic issues greatly impacted support for Sen. McCain among rural voters," Greener said. "But I do not think you can use this data to state where things stand today."

Davis said he hopes the poll convinces candidates to start discussing rural issues. The two candidates have said little about such matters.

"They are saying pretty much the same things over and over," Davis said, adding that talking to rural voters could help them get votes even though the poll shows just 2 percent of rural voters have not picked a candidate.

"It would be helpful if either of these candidates were talking about how rural America can play a role in helping the rest of the country out of this mess we are in," Davis said, adding that any new energy sources are bound to come from rural parts of the country.