Barack Obama maintains an advantage on the economy, especially economic empathy, and he's cracked majority acceptance on his key challenge, experience. But the political center remains unrooted, keeping John McCain in the race, albeit against headwinds.
Movement continues among independents, quintessential swing voters and a highly changeable group this year.
They favored McCain by 10 points immediately after the Republican convention, swung to Obama last week and stand now at a close division between the two -- 48 percent for McCain, 45 percent for Obama in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Preference among likely voters overall is 50-46 percent, Obama-McCain, a bit closer (albeit within sampling error) than the 52-43 percent last week.
The race between them is up for grabs as long as movables -- independents and others less rooted in partisan allegiance -- remain unswayed by either candidate.
But fundamental advantages for Obama remain.
McCain's laboring under the Bush legacy. With the current economic situation, a record 70 percent of Americans disapprove of George W. Bush's job performance; a career-low 26 percent approve.
Just two presidents have had lower approval (Richard Nixon and Harry Truman) than President Bush, and none has had higher disapproval in polls since 1938.
McCain's problem: Fifty-three percent of registered voters think he'd lead the country in the same direction as Bush, inching back up over a majority.
Forty-eight percent of registered voters are uncomfortable about McCain's age, a new high. And while Obama has advanced since mid-June in the sense that he's a "safe" choice for president, to 55 percent, McCain has lost ground on this measure; 51 percent now see him as safe, down 6 points.
Obama continues to trounce McCain on enthusiasm. Sixty-one percent of Obama's supporters are very enthusiastic about their choice, vs. 38 percent of McCain's.
For all that, Obama does not have the race in the bag.
Though more registered voters say Obama than McCain won Friday's debate, Obama has not progressed in the sense that he'd make a good commander-in-chief of the military, and remains under 50 percent in this measure.
The number who say he's got the kind of experience it takes to serve effectively as president, while a majority for the first time, is only narrowly so, 52 percent.
The financial crisis (see separate analysis) introduces an element of uncertainty into the 2008 presidential race.
Obama has a 50-40 percent advantage in trust to handle the situation, much like his lead last week, and a 50-43 percent edge in trust to handle the economy overall, by far the top issue in the election.
But it's now 50-44 percent in McCain's direction in trust to handle an unexpected crisis, with a potential opportunity for him to promote the stability of experience.
Fundamentally the candidates are close on the key issues; the only double-digit leads in this poll are Obama's 10 points on handling the financial crisis, the same on energy policy.