Manchester, NH (CNSNews.com) - The latest poll of New Hampshire voters shows the Republican presidential contest narrowing to a two-man race.
The October survey by the American Research Group finds Texas Governor George W Bush leading with 43 percent of the 600 Republicans surveyed, followed by Arizona Senator John McCain at 26 percent.
Publisher Steve Forbes runs a distant third, at seven percent.
Bringing up the rear was Elizabeth Dole and Alan Keyes at three percent, Patrick J. Buchanan at two percent, Gary Bauer at one percent and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, registering zero in the tally.
Citing an inability to raise money, Dole withdrew from the contest on Wednesday.
The GOP tally has a margin of error of four percent, which could mean the Bush-McCain contest might be as close as 39 to 30.
McCain's surge, from the low single digits during the summer months, to his 26 percent tally, has surprised many in the Granite State.
Some political operatives attribute McCain's success to the number of trips - two dozen -and the amount of time he's spent here, to Bush's infrequent visits (a half dozen), and what they cite as their staged nature and his unwillingness to discuss specific issues.
A growing number of New Hampshire activists have said privately they are annoyed at the governor for his failure to take part in scheduled debates.
While he will be in the state Thursday and Friday, Bush has refused to participate in a town meeting Thursday night, sponsored by WNDS-TV. On Friday, just hours before another scheduled debate, Bush will leave New Hampshire and fly to Vermont for a dinner and fund-raiser.
"That offends people here," said one activist who requested anonymity. "His approach to New Hampshire is a big mistake and he could well end up paying a heavy price,"
While Dole registered only three percent in the latest ARG poll, her supporters are being actively wooed by Bush and McCain forces.
Sherry Young, a Concord attorney, a Dole volunteer has been called by both campaigns. Other Dole supporters reported receiving calls from McCain or his staff minutes after Dole opted out.
In the Democratic contest, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley tops Vice President Al Gore 45 to 41 percent, making that race a statistical dead heat.
The favorable-unfavorable tally shows Bush at 71/13 and McCain at 64-17. Voters find Steve Forbes more unfavorable than favorable at 35/52.
On the Democratic side, Gore has a favorable-unfavorable rating of 62-17, while Bradley comes in at 60-5.