The survey of 625 likely voters in Virginia found 47 percent supported Obama, 44 percent preferred McCain and 9 percent were undecided. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Should Virginia vote Democratic, Barack Obama probably will win the White House. But should McCain hold the state, the result could portend a McCain comeback nationally.
The Mason-Dixon poll shows that 11 percent of whites are undecided - far more than usual in the closing week of a statewide election, Coker said. The last time the figure was nearly as high was 1989 in Virginia, when Democrat Doug Wilder was elected the nation's first black governor.
Like Obama, Wilder had a small but clear lead in late polls. But on election night, in a phenomenon that came to be known in Virginia as "the Wilder effect," an unexpectedly large Republican vote in predominately white precincts brought GOP nominee Marshall Coleman within a whisker - four-tenths of 1 percentage point - of victory.
The earliest signs of who will be the next president might spring from Virginia and how undecided white voters such as John Morris and Sidney Blankenbeckler cast their ballots.
"I'm pretty disappointed in Republicans right now, and I don't think John McCain is offering a lot that's new," said Morris, a retired Navy captain who lives in Chesterfield County, a prosperous Richmond suburb.
"But frankly, I'm scared of Obama and some of the things he's been talking about."
Three hundred miles west, in tiny Sugar Grove, a farming and manufacturing community deep in the Appalachians, Blankenbeckler worries that a McCain victory would mean "four more years of kind of dragging along" but that Obama might be "borderline Socialist." Blankenbeckler said he is trying to decide "which is least worst."
Virginia will be among the first states to report results Tuesday night, and should it vote Democratic for the first time in a presidential race since 1964 - as many polls suggest - Barack Obama probably will win the White House. But should McCain hold the state, the result could portend a McCain comeback nationally.
A new poll commissioned by The Virginian-Pilot concludes the state remains up for grabs. The survey of 625 likely voters found 47 percent supported Obama, 44 percent preferred McCain and a crucial 9 percent were undecided. Because the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, the race is technically a dead heat.
The telephone survey was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. on Wednesday and Thursday.
J. Bradford Coker, who oversaw the survey, said the ultimate outcome in Virginia and elsewhere might hinge on whether undecided white voters are willing to vote for Obama, who would be the nation's first African American president.