WASHINGTON - Kathy Melkey stands astride some of the fault lines between Barack Obama and John McCain.
The 49-year-old substitute teacher from Granby, Conn., is a white woman, an independent and a suburbanite. Each of those groups is closely divided between the two presidential candidates.
"I'm waiting for somebody to wow me here," said Melkey, who says she likes Obama but could change her mind.
Polls indicate a close race. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll and other surveys taken before the Democratic and Republican conventions provide a look at how Obama and McCain are doing with blocs of voters.
The 72-year-old Republican senator from Arizona and Vietnam War prisoner is doing strongly with whites, older voters and several types of men. But there's little evidence he is benefiting much from the age and racial contrasts between himself and Obama, 47, who would become the first African-American president.
McCain's 10 percentage point lead among whites in the AP-Ipsos poll is 7 points less than President Bush's margin with the group in 2004 and similar to Bush's 12-point advantage in 2000. His 9-point lead among those age 65 and older is significant — they tend to vote in high numbers — but is about the same Bush did in 2004.
McCain and Obama, the Illinois senator, are running about evenly among men. McCain is up by 17 points with white men — less than Bush's margins in both his victories. The Republican leads by 16 points with married men and 10 points with suburban men — similar to Bush's edge in each category in 2004 and 2000.
McCain leads by 11 points among whites who've not completed college — a group Obama lost badly in the Democratic primaries to Hillary Rodham Clinton. McCain's edge is not as strong as Bush's 23-point margin with that group in 2004 and his 17-point advantage in 2000. As expected for a GOP candidate, McCain is dominating white evangelical voters.
As in the primaries, Obama is supported by about nine in 10 blacks, according to recent ABC News-Washington Post and Pew Research Center polls. That's about how Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore did in 2004 and 2000 respectively. To benefit more from black loyalty, Obama will have to increase their turnout above the 11 percent of voters they comprised in 2004.
Obama also has large leads among Hispanics and people under age 30, in both cases outdoing Kerry's 2004 performances.
Obama's advantage among women was 13 points in the AP-Ipsos poll — 10 points better than Kerry did. Obama and McCain are about even among white women and the Democrat leads among suburban women — both improvements over 2004. The survey was taken before McCain selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
To capitalize on Obama's appeal to female voters, campaign spokesman Bill Burton says they will emphasize McCain's anti-abortion views to make it hard for him "to climb his way out of the real problem he has with women."
Obama is laboring to win over Clinton's supporters. She used an emotional speech to the convention Tuesday to call him "my candidate." Pew and ABC-Post surveys found seven in 10 of her backers behind Obama while a CBS News-New York Times poll found six in 10 — ominous numbers for Obama, even though those polls were conducted before the convention. McCain has churned out television ads aimed at prying those voters away from Obama.
McCain, who defied Bush on campaign finance and other issues, has a 38-point lead among conservatives — a big edge but well behind Bush's 69-point margin in 2004.
About three-fourths of Democrats back Obama and the same number of Republicans support McCain — significantly below the nine in 10 votes exit polls show both Kerry and Bush got from their own parties four years ago.
Independents are closely split between McCain and Obama. Kerry and Bush finished even among this group in 2004, and Bush won them by 2 points in 2000. Mike DuHaine, McCain's political director, said the campaign's focus will be on the broad group of voters in the political middle.
"The battle in this election will be very much among independent swing voters" and other centrists like conservative and moderate Democrats, said DuHaine.
Suburban voters are divided evenly, as usual in recent presidential elections, but there are gender differences. McCain leads by 10 points among suburban men in the AP-Ipsos survey, while Obama has roughly the same advantage with suburban women.
Catholics, often pivotal, are divided closely between the rivals. The ABC-Post poll shows McCain ahead by 11 points among white Catholics.
The AP-Ipsos poll was conducted July 31-Aug. 4 and included telephone interviews with 833 registered voters, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.