Point Spread

How big is John McCain's lead in Arizona? And why is Tim Bee unavailable for comment on the bailout vote?

Two polls released last week paint dramatically different pictures of the presidential race in Arizona.

A Cronkite-Eight Poll shows Democrat Barack Obama trailing Republican John McCain by just 7 percentage points. But a Rasmussen Reports survey shows McCain with his widest lead ever: 21 percentage points.

The Cronkite-Eight Poll, sponsored by the Arizona State University journalism school and Maricopa County PBS affiliate KAET-TV, showed that 45 percent of the 976 registered voters who were surveyed late last month would be voting for McCain, while 38 percent were supporting Obama.

But the Rasmussen poll showed that 59 percent of voters were supporting McCain, while concluding that 38 percent were supporting Obama.

Veteran GOP pollster Margaret Kenski says much of the discrepancy has to do with "the different kinds of polling methodology."

Kenski notes that Bruce Merrill, who oversees the Cronkite-Eight poll, typically uses a sample of registered voters.

"That will make it a little more Democratic than it might otherwise be," said Kenski. "I don't know what Rasmussen's methodology is ... but he says he gets a likely voter sample, and his track record is quite good."

However, Kenski expressed skepticism that McCain had as large of a lead in Arizona as the Rasmussen poll showed.

"I don't believe it is 21 points," Kenski said.

Some other notes from the Cronkite-Eight poll:

• Half of the voters surveyed said they thought Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was an asset to the McCain campaign, while 34 percent said she hurt McCain, and 16 percent had no opinion.

• Forty-eight percent said Palin has what it takes to be an effective president if something were to happen to McCain, while 46 percent said they were not confident she would be up to the job.

By comparison, 70 percent had confidence that Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden would be able to take over the presidency if something were to happen to Obama, while 24 percent said they didn't think he would be up to the job.

• Voters appear ready to approve Prop 102, which would amend the Arizona Constitution to limit marriage to being between one man and one woman. Nearly half the voters--49 percent--supported the proposition, while 42 percent were opposed, and 9 percent were undecided.

• Voters are behind Prop 202, aka Stop Illegal Hiring. The initiative, backed by business interests unhappy with the state's current employer-sanctions law, had the support of 63 percent of the voters. Less than one in five--19 percent--were opposed, and 18 were undecided.

• Arizonans were split on the Wall Street bailout that Congress passed last week, with 39 percent opposing it, 31 percent supporting it, and 30 percent undecided.

That congressional bailout was at the center of one of Republican Tim Bee's attacks against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last week.

Giffords initially voted against the bailout on Monday, Sept. 29, but reversed herself later in the week to support the revised package assembled in the Senate.

After the bailout initially failed in the House of Representatives on Monday, Giffords returned to Tucson. That led to a blunder of an attack from the Bee campaign, which sent out a press release criticizing Giffords for leaving Washington, D.C., with the work unfinished so she could campaign against Bee.

The Giffords campaign had a quick response: Giffords wasn't returning to campaign; she was coming to Tucson to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with her family. In addition, the campaign pointed out that she had voted against adjournment.

Giffords returned to D.C. later in the week to vote for the revised Senate package, which included an extension of solar-energy tax credits that Giffords had been fighting to get into law.

After the bailout bill passed, the Bee campaign sent out another release criticizing Giffords for supporting a package that included not only the $700 billion bailout package, but an additional $150 billion in other tax adjustments, including a fix to the alternative-minimum tax.

"This new legislation epitomizes the systematic problems in Washington," Bee's release declared. "Instead of addressing the crisis and passing sensible legislation that would protect the taxpayer and not bail out Wall Street on the backs of Main Street, a broken Washington saw an opportunity. ... They added pork for wooden arrows, racetracks, rum, bicyclists and Hollywood studios to name a few."

Bee also criticized Giffords for supporting the solar-energy tax credits, although he said he supported the credits in principle.

But the Bee campaign did not say whether he would have voted against the legislation. Tom Dunn, spokesman for the Bee campaign, did not return a phone call from the Weekly to clarify Bee's position.

While Bee was dodging the media, Giffords was riding on horseback in the Rex Allen Days parade in Willcox, where she carried a cowboy flag that had been carried into outer space by Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

The Bee campaign aired a new campaign ad against Giffords over the weekend, accusing the Democrat of voting to raise taxes and praising Bee for his work on the state budget.

Giffords campaign spokesman Eric Swedlund said that the vote that the ad cited was a nonbinding resolution. He pointed to several other votes in which Giffords supported extending tax cuts for middle-class families, although she supports ending the tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

The Giffords campaign also pointed out that the state budget was rushed through the Legislature in the closing days of the fiscal year. They brought up a quote from conservative columnist Robert Robb of The Arizona Republic, who wrote that Bee failed to keep his GOP team together and "turned the keys to the joint over to the Democrats and walked away with nothing to show for it." Robb added that Bee's budget work represented a "colossal failure of leadership."

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