ABC News' George Stephanopoulos reports: Here is Barack Obama's favorite number right now: 49 percent of likely voters say he is the best candidate to handle an unexpected crisis. Only 45 percent of likely voters say that about McCain, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.
What a difference four months makes.
In early July when voters were asked this question, McCain led Obama 51 - 42 percent as the candidate best able to handle an unexpected crisis -- a nine point lead for McCain.
That number swelled in early September to a 17 percentage point lead for McCain over Obama -- 54 - 37 percent among likely voters -- in the days following the Republican convention and McCain's selection of vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Unless McCain can get that number back, it's hard to see how he can catch up.
Obama is now leading John McCain 53 - 44 percent among likely voters, according to the latest ABC/Post tracking poll.
The overall race is essentially unchanged from last week's ABC/Post poll, which found Obama leading McCain 53 to 43 percent.
While Obama continues to have the wind at his back in the presidential race, McCain has eroded Obama's lead on voters' perceptions of who better understands Americans' economic problems. Last week Obama led McCain by 31 percentage points on which candidate better understands economic problems; this week Obama leads McCain by 19 points.
However Obama continues to lead McCain 55-39 percent in trust to handle the economy overall -- a 16 point advantage on a critical issue for voters. Obama also leads McCain 50 32 percent on having presented the clearer economic plan.
Despite McCain's invocation of Joe the Plumber to drive his attack against Obama's tax plan, Obama continues to lead McCain by 10 points in trust to deal with taxes. Obama also leads McCain on honesty, trustworthiness, and the candidate who represents voters' "personal values."
One of McCain's biggest challenges has been separating himself from President George W. Bush, who supports from record low approval ratings.
The poll found McCain's declaration, "I am not President Bush," during his third and final debate may have helped him a bit on that front.
For the first time, less than half of voters -- 49 percent -- believe McCain would continue in Bush's direction, inching McCain lower than last week's 52 percent of likely voters who believe McCain would be Bush 2.0.
McCain also gained nine points in backers who are "very" enthusiastic about his candidacy. But Obama's enthusiastic supporters soar to 64 percent of likely voters compared to McCain's 40 percent.
Obama's so-called enthusiasm gap could be fatal for McCain on Election Day. In 2000 Bush's likely voters were more enthusiastic than former Vice President Al Gore's 55 to 46 percent. In 2004 Bush's likely voters were more enthusiastic than Sen. John Kerry's, D-Mass., 55 to 46 percent.
With two weeks left in the campaign, Obama has a 24-point enthusiasm advantage over McCain which could help him with the get-out-the-vote effort in key battleground states.