WASHINGTON Democrat Barack Obama has opened a 6-point lead over Republican John McCain one day before the White House rivals meet in their final debate, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Tuesday.
Obama leads McCain 49 percent to 43 percent among likely U.S. voters in the latest four-day tracking poll, up slightly from Obama's 4-point advantage on Monday. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
"Clearly it was another bad day for John McCain," pollster John Zogby said. "With three weeks to go, it's safe to say he doesn't have much time to turn this around."
Obama opened up a formidable 17-point advantage among independents and maintained a solid 11-point lead among women, two key swing voting blocs in the November 4 presidential election.
Obama also holds a narrow lead among men, expanded his lead with Catholics and Hispanics and leads McCain among voters in every age group, including voters above the age of 65 who had been among his strongest supporters.
McCain, 72, has a shrinking 11-point lead among whites and a small lead among high-income workers. "McCain is losing ground with the groups that are supposed to be in his pocket and with the ones he should be competitive with," Zogby said.
Obama surged into a lead in the race after weeks of economic turmoil that led to a sharp plunge in the stock market last week and a $700 billion government bailout of U.S. financial institutions.
His gains came despite a week of attacks by McCain's campaign on Obama's character and judgment, including his service on a community board in Chicago with former 1960s radical William Ayers.
McCain, an Arizona senator, backed away from the attacks over the weekend and adopted the role of a feisty underdog who will battle for voters.
But Zogby said the earlier negativity had eroded some of McCain's image with independents and moderates. "His message has been clouded by all the shouting," Zogby said.
The poll, conducted Friday through Monday, showed independent Ralph Nader with 2 percent. Libertarian Bob Barr and Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party registered 1 percent each.
Four percent of voters said they were still undecided.
The rolling tracking poll surveyed 1,208 likely voters in the presidential election. In a tracking poll, the most recent day's results are added while the oldest day's results are dropped in an effort to track changing momentum.
McCain and Obama are battling for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)