Sen. John Kerry (search) holds a slim lead over President Bush, according to an Associated Press poll that shows the Democrat gaining ground while Bush lost support on personal qualities, the war in Iraq and national security.
Fewer voters than a month ago believe Bush is the best man to protect the country and fight the war.
The AP-Ipsos Public Affairs poll, completed on the eve of the second presidential debate, charted a reversal from a month ago, when the Republican incumbent had the momentum and a minuscule lead. Since then, bloodshed increased in Iraq, Kerry sharpened his attacks and Bush stumbled in their initial debate.
Nearly three-fourths of likely voters said they had watched or listened to the first presidential debate last week, according to the poll. Only 8 percent came away with a more favorable view of Bush while 39 percent said they felt better about Kerry.
Among 944 likely voters, the Democratic ticket of Kerry and Sen. John Edwards (search) led Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (search) 50 percent to 46 percent. The Oct. 4-6 survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The race was tied 47-47 percent among all voters. Others polls show the race just as tight.
While national polls gauge the potential popular vote, the White House will go to the candidate who wins the state-by-state race for 270 electoral votes. The race is close by that measure, too, with analysts saying a slight shift in the race is capable of swinging several states from one candidate to another.