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Poll: Obama taking independents, but race against Romney is toss up

President Barack Obama speaks about manufacturing and jobs during a visit to Intel Corporation's Ocotillo facility Jan. 25 in Chandler. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

President Barack Obama is appealing to a larger percentage of independent voters in Arizona than his likely Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to a poll released Monday by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute of Public Policy.

But the statewide poll taken the second week of April shows voters were nearly split over the candidates, and many respondents were still unsure who they would vote for.

The Obama campaign has asserted that Arizona is in play, despite the state’s strong conservative roots and voting for a Democratic presidential candidate only once since President Truman.

Forty two percent of the 488 registered voters polled said they would vote for Romney while 40 percent would vote for Obama, and 18 percent were undecided.

In the relatively small sample of independents, 38 percent supported Obama while Romney got 28 percent support and 34 percent said they were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

The Morrison Institute released limited information on the single-question of who voters would support in matchup between Romney and Obama. The question was part of a larger political poll whose results will be released piecemeal over the next few days.

While Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won Arizona by 9 points in 2008, Obama’s apparent surge this time around is coming from a disproportionate number of independents, which is also true nationwide, said Poll Director Bruce Merrill.

Merrill said it is unclear why Obama has such strong support from independents in the state because Arizona independents are divided into a third that lean Republican, a third Democratic and a third that is truly independent and more libertarian.

“All you can say is the election is so darn close,” Merrill said. “If the election were held today, I think Romney would win narrowly.”

Luis Heredia, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said issues pushed by the Republican-led Legislature, such as proposals to allow guns in public buildings and limiting contraceptive coverage are going to haunt Romney.

“In Arizona, we have a front-row seat to Republican extremism,” Heredia said.

Shane Wikfors, spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party, said the impact of the poll is diluted since it didn’t examine the support of likely voters, just registered voters.

He said, however, the Republicans have their work cut out for them, but offer a more positive, hopeful message on fixing the economy than Obama.

“That is going to resonate with independent voters,” he said.

Merrill said a surprise from the poll came in the lack of a gender gap in the support for Obama, which isn’t the case nationwide or politics in general. Nationwide, polls show female voters are significantly siding with Obama.

The poll was weighted to include 36 percent Republican voters, 30 percent Democratic voters and 34 percent independent voters. Forty-nine percent of the respondents were men and 51 percent were women.

One factor that still hasn’t come into play is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on SB1070. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Wednesday.

Merrill said he believes Hispanics will become energized if the court rules in favor of the state and holds the law constitutional.

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