Women voters give Democrat Barack Obama the edge over Republican John McCain in the presidential race in Maine, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted this week exclusively for WLBZ 2, WCSH 6 and the Bangor Daily News.

A telephone poll of 675 likely and actual voters statewide conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed the candidates in a virtual dead heat among men, but the Democratic senator from Illinois defeated McCain 49 percent to 44 percent when women were thrown into the mix.

When women were asked whom they would vote for if the election for president were held today, 51 percent chose Obama and 41 percent McCain. Among the men, 47 percent favored McCain, while 46 percent picked Obama.

About 7 percent of those polled were undecided or chose “one of the other candidates.” The polls margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

According to the poll, Arizona’s Republican senator tops Obama among gun owners, pro-life voters, those who say the United States is still a superpower and those who attend religious services regularly. Obama beats McCain among college graduates, lower-income voters, pro-choicers and those who almost never attend religious services, the survey showed.

State Republican Party Chairman Mark Ellis declared himself delighted by the results.

“My reason is that this was a 20-point race at the beginning of the summer and it’s been running 10 to 13 percent lately with Obama running ahead, so clearly some significant ground has been made up,” Ellis said Wednesday. “It’s a virtual dead heat if you include a margin of error.”

Ellis thought it likely that more women voters will go Republican when they see more of vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“The Palin factor has yet to play out fully in Maine,” Ellis said. “She’s quite an outdoorswoman, her husband is a world champion snowmobiler … I think she really connects with Mainers.”

Still, the poll shows Obama carrying both congressional districts in Maine by 5 percentage points, indicating he would have won the state’s four Electoral College votes had the election been held earlier this week.

Seven percent of those polled also indicated they had already voted using absentee ballots. Obama carried a majority of their votes.

That put a smile on the face of Jessica Santillo, Maine communications director of Obama for America.

“Mainers are looking for change and Barack Obama is the candidate who will provide immediate relief from the high cost of home heating oil. He will create jobs and strengthen our economy so that hardworking families can get ahead,” Santillo said in a press statement.

Traditionally a Democratic state, Maine has been a Dem stronghold among presidential candidates for the last two elections. Sen. John Kerry won by nine points in Maine in 2004; Vice President Al Gore by 5 points in 2000. However, Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are the state’s two U.S. senators.

SurveyUSA is one of the nation’s largest independent, non-partisan, full-service opinion research firms, conducting scientific research for media, government, and private-sector clients, according to its Web site, surveyusa.com.