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Pollsters see closer-than-expected November election

McCain is competitive against either Clinton or Obama, the codirectors of an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll say.

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Prevailing political winds are blowing in a direction that is not helpful for the Republican Party. But when voters are asked to choose between John McCain and either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, Senator McCain is competitive.

That is the bottom-line finding of the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted March 7-10 among 1,012 voters. The codirectors of the poll, Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff, met with reporters Thursday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast to discuss their latest findings.

Mr. Hart, chairman of Hart Research Associates, and Mr. McInturff, cofounder and partner at Public Opinion Strategies, are two of the most respected political pollsters in the country. Their presentations are tailored to give off light, not heat.

"Elections are about fundamentals," Hart said. "This is clearly one that points in a certain direction of change.... Only 20 percent of Americans think things are headed in the right direction; only a third of the voters approve of the president's performance."

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