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July 24, 2008 at 12:00 PM
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Poll: Obama gains support in swing states

PRINCETON, N.J., July 24 (UPI) -- Likely Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois gained support in blue, red, and purple -- or swing -- states, a Gallup Poll indicates.

Before Obama secured enough delegates in June to win the Democratic nomination, he and his likely Republican challenger, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, each averaged about 45 percent in the Gallup Poll Daily tracking, pollsters said Wednesday. Since then, Obama picked up an average of 3 percentage points -- 46 percent to 43 percent -- in states seen as traditionally Democratic or Republican and swing states.

While Obama made slight inroads -- 3 points -- in blue (Democratic) and red (GOP) states, he showed greater gains in the competitive states, where his lead expand by 6 points, the Princeton, N.J., polling firm said.

Since early June, Obama has averaged a 16-point lead over McCain in blue states and an 8-point lead in swing states, Gallup said. He trails McCain by an average of 10 points in red states.

Results for June 2-July 20 survey are based on telephone interviews with 39,603 registered voters, including 14,548 in red states, 13,311 in blue states and 11,744 in purple states. The total sample's margin of error is plus or minus 1 percentage point.

Dolly weakening, soaking southern Texas

MIAMI, July 24 (UPI) -- Tropical Storm Dolly was weakening in southern Texas on a northwesterly track Thursday, drenching the area with heavy rains.

At 11 a.m., forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the former Category 2 hurricane was centered "very near" Laredo, Texas. The system was moving west-northwest at 9 mph, which was expected to continue for the next day as the system weakens into a tropical depression, which the forecast said would occur Thursday night.

Sustained winds were 45 mph with higher gusts, and extended 85 miles from the storm's center.

A tropical storm warning from Brownsville to Port Aransas was discontinued.

Since hitting the coast Wednesday afternoon with 100 mph winds, Dolly has delivered 6-8 inches of rain to the deep south of Texas and northern Mexico. Forecasters said isolated areas could receive up to 20 inches of rain.

Before the storm made landfall, Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration Tuesday for 14 counties in the projected path. Wind and flood damage was reported on South Padre Island, which bore the first impact, but damage estimates weren't available early Thursday.

Dolly forces thousands to shelters

BROWNSVILLE, Texas, July 24 (UPI) -- Thousands of people slept in shelters and more than 100,000 households were without power in parts of southern Texas hit by Hurricane Dolly.

The hurricane's 100-mph winds tore away roofs of hotels, condominiums and homes in coastal communities lying in its path, the San Antonio Express-News reported Thursday.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he would ask U.S. President George Bush for a disaster declaration for 15 counties to hasten relief for the area.

Hurricane Dolly dumped up to 1 foot of rain in the Rio Grande Valley when it made landfall Wednesday. A Category 2 hurricane when it reached land, Dolly began running out of steam as it moved inland.

Around midnight, Hidalgo County, Texas, officials reported roadways flooded, motorists stranded, trees downed and thousands of people without power.

At least one hospital was locked down, meaning no could enter or leave, while others were using backup generators, Salina told the newspaper.

Officials were concerned about the valley's aging levees but said they seemed to have absorbed the initial impact.

At a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint at Sarita, agents seized nearly 5 tons of marijuana hidden in a load of cotton seed and arrested the driver, the Express-News reported

U.S. panel visits 'don't ask, don't tell'

WASHINGTON, July 24 (UPI) -- A U.S. House of Representatives panel is examining the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the U.S. military.

Opponents to the policy told a House Armed Services subcommittee Wednesday the policy hurt the military by excluding otherwise-qualified people from enlistment and discharging highly trained personnel who have acknowledged their sexual orientation publicly, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Proponents said cohesion and morale would be harmed by allowing openly gay personnel to serve, The Washington Post reported.

Likely Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said he would work to repeal the law; his presumptive Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said it should be maintained.

A bill to dismantle the policy was introduced last year.

"We have figured out how to deal with racial integration and gender discrimination," said U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., the bill's sponsor. "This is the last frontier."

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes a repeal, said allowing gays to serve openly would drive away individuals not wishing to serve with gays.

Retired U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who lost his right leg after stepping on a land mine in Iraq, said he fought "and nearly died to secure rights for others that I myself was not free to enjoy."

Two climbers rescued from Himalayas

ROME, July 24 (UPI) -- An Italian climber said he and his partner are "OK" after being rescued from a mountain in Pakistan where they were stranded for days.

Walter Nones and Simon Kehrer attempted descending the mountain after their leader died last week but their efforts were hampered by severe weather, the Italian news service ANSA reported Thursday.

"We're OK, we're OK. There was a small avalanche (Wednesday) but we were able to ski on this morning,'' Nones told Agostino Da Polenza, head of Italy's Himalayan operations.

Nones and Kehrer decided to forgo plans to take a new route up the mountain after their leader, Karl Unterkircher, fell and died last Wednesday, ANSA said.

The hikers said they delayed their descent and camped out this week because of thick fog and snowfall.

ANSA said helicopters were able to reach the climbers Thursday as weather permitted.

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