12/04/2008 11:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How Obama Can Finally Break Free in the Polls: Hillary

Six days into Barack Obama's international tour, the Gallup daily tracking poll shows the race for president remains tight, with only two points separating the presumptive nominees, 45% to 43%, on combined data from July 21-23. Odd.

Everything has gone well for Obama on this foreign excursion, and John McCain spent the week floundering from gaffe to gaffe, while his campaign expressed an immature, petulant tone toward the positive coverage generated by the senator from Illinois.

So this begs a question: Why so close? Shouldn't Obama be wiping the floor with this guy? (Sure, he was up on McCain by 10 points in one Newsweek poll in June, but nobody believed it and it didn't last.)

Friday morning, NPR reported that McCain's numbers had recently ticked upward in four key battleground states, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado. These state-by-state numbers are really more significant than the national overall figure. After all, the fall presidential election is not a national popular vote election, not a plebiscite, but rather 50 different elections (plus the District of Columbia.)

Enter Hillary Clinton. For Democrats, she's apparently like morning sunshine.

A new Opinion Dynamics poll taken for Fox News tells the tale, but Fox buried a key finding. All they report on their website is the data showing "No Bounce For Obama from Overseas Trip," but question #3 in the poll (pdf here), shows Obama's slim lead increases substantially with her on the ticket.

The survey, taken Tuesday and Wednesday of this week among 900 registered voters, shows Obama beating McCain by a statistically meaningless 1 point in a two-way race, and 3 points if the Independent Nader and Libertarian Barr are tossed in.

However, a mythical matchup of Obama-Clinton beats a Republican ticket of McCain-Romney by a much bigger 9 points, well outside the margin of error. Opinion Dynamics polling has actually shown the same thing for three straight months; others have, too.

This suggests the tightness in the race is due to voter uncertainty on the Democratic side of the draw, and here's why:

Throughout the past year, Democrats consistently told pollsters they were happy with all of their presidential contenders, while Republicans were overwhelmingly bummed about theirs. Things have not changed, which is why repubs stay sour in polls when offered McCain-Romney, yet Obama's numbers suddenly brighten when paired with his chief rival. That's a notable finding.

He did the job on the trip abroad, looking and sounding like our next leader. It must have been heartwarming for every American to actually see U.S. flags waving proudly in the throng of 200,000 Germans in Berlin. When was the last time Europeans waved Old Glory without lighting it on fire?

The final piece to the puzzle may well be adding Clinton's solid base of women, and her populist economic message, to Obama's call for "change we can believe in." She racked up big primary wins in large states loaded with electoral votes (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, etc.), and she and Obama finished the nominating season in a virtual tie in popular votes cast.

The solution is simple. Clinton needs to become a visible and substantive part of the Obama campaign, something that hasn't happened yet. Fact is, she controls "huge tracts of land," and Democrats don't just need them, Democrats desire them.

You never go broke giving the people what they want.

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