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Local poll: Bush, Kerry in dead heat

The U.S. presidential race remains too close to call in Jackson County, a new /KTVL News 10 poll shows, even as the national spotlight shines this week on Southern Oregon.

President George W. Bush would receive 48 percent of local votes to Sen. John Kerry's 45 percent, according to a telephone poll of 439 registered local voters. Five percent of voters remained undecided, according to the survey conducted by the Dennett Consulting Group of Ashland.

The poll included a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

The results of that poll, conducted Oct. 1-8, differed only slightly from a similar survey held Sept. 3-10. In that poll, Bush received 49 percent of votes; Kerry received 47 percent.

A representative for the Republican Party, which dominates county voter registration, said the poll would not accurately reflect the final outcome. He predicted Bush's scheduled visit to Medford Thursday would influence more local voters in the president's favor.

— There is no way that this county is going to be that close, said Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee. I've seen people standing in line three or four hours waiting to get a ticket. This is Bush country.

Democratic supporters downplayed the potential impact of Bush's visit and said the close poll results indicate a truly divided electorate.

(Bush) always speaks to people who are already committed, said Bill Layton, chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee. I've been expecting all along that we were going to carry Jackson County. This adds to my optimism.

Kerry's vice presidential candidate, John Edwards, is scheduled to hold a town hall-style meeting in Medford this morning.

In races closer to home, the new poll offered few changes over the earlier survey. Potential voters continued overwhelmingly to support Measure 36, which amends the Oregon Constitution to allow marriage only between one man and one woman. Sixty percent of voters polled supported the measure, 31 percent opposed it and 9 percent remained undecided.

One significant shift recorded in the poll, however, was in the contest between Sue Densmore and C.W. Smith for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

New numbers showed Smith ahead with 41 percent, compared to 34 percent for Densmore. The last poll showed Densmore ahead by 4 points.

Smith attributed the change to a geographic shift in the poll sample. The earlier poll included more voters in Ashland, where Densmore may be favored, he said. The new poll included a voting sample more geographically similar to the county's actual makeup.

This latest poll was a more appropriate demographic cross section, Smith said, adding later: The only poll I really count on is the poll on election day.

Densmore said the new numbers aren't worrisome.

It probably means he's been on television a little bit more than I have, Densmore said. I think there are a lot of voters who don't know me yet.

More aggressive television, door-to-door, phoning and direct-mail campaign efforts in the next few weeks will emphasize her broader range of experience, Densmore said.

A quarter of voters polled remained undecided about that race, the poll showed.

In the race for a seat in the 2nd Congressional District, Republican incumbent Greg Walden garnered 49 percent support to challenger John McColgan's 18 percent, with 33 percent of voters undecided.

That's a shift from the previous poll, which showed Walden with 64 percent of the vote and McColgan with 36 percent.

The latest poll included no information about the race between Democratic Rep. Alan Bates and Republican challenger Jim Wright for Senate District 3. The last poll showed Bates ahead by 10 points, but Mark Dennett, president of the firm that conducted the survey, said that sample included voters from outside the district.

The Senate district takes in Ashland, Medford, Talent, Phoenix and Jacksonville, while the poll is countywide.

The October poll included insightful information about local voters. Nearly three-quarters of those polled watched the first presidential debate on Sept. 30, and 54 percent said they believed Kerry won the contest against 21 percent who said Bush was the winner.

The poll also asked two questions that echoed queries in national Gallup polls conducted in mid-September. In most areas, local voters echoed national trends. That varied dramatically, however, in one instance.

Voters supporting Bush were asked to list their top five reasons for doing so. Twenty percent of Jackson County voters said they disliked Kerry or felt he had a poor character. In the Gallup poll, only — percent of national voters felt the same way.

Reach reporter JoNel Aleccia at 776-4465, or e-mail