- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2007

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination has tightened significantly between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, according to recent polls that show a sharp increase among voters who have negative opinions of the former first lady.

The New York senator held on to her front-runner status last week, but pollsters and political analysts said she was losing strategic segments of her party’s base, including younger, single women, liberals and independents.

“The recent decline in her image appears to be broad-based, as it is evident among most key subgroups,” the Gallup Poll said.

Gallup’s survey of registered voters last week found that Mrs. Clinton had lost her double-digit lead over Mr. Obama of Illinois, who now trails her by five percentage points.

It also found that her favorability ratings had taken a nose dive.

Mrs. Clinton’s favorability score fell from 58 percent in February to 45 percent last week her lowest Gallup score since 1993. Fifty-two percent said they have a negative view of her candidacy. This compared with Mr. Obama, who had a favorability rating of 52 percent.

“It’s still early in the campaign and it’s hard to bet against a Clinton. They’re winners. However, the inevitability factor is no longer there,” independent pollster John Zogby said.

“What this means when you zero in on the key states, where the campaigns have begun in earnest, is that you have very competitive races and serious questions about Hillary’s electability coming from Democrats,” he said.

But the Clinton camp dismissed the Gallup numbers Friday, focusing on other polls last week that showed her retaining a strong lead over her chief rivals.

“We’re gratified that this week’s Washington Post and Fox News polls both show Senator Clinton with large leads, but we’re taking nothing for granted and will work hard for every vote,” Clinton campaign spokesman Blake Zeff said.

Mrs. Clinton led Mr. Obama among Democrats, 37 percent to 20 percent, in the Post poll and 41 percent to 20 percent in the Fox poll.

But Mrs. Clinton’s weaker head-to-head numbers in the latest Gallup survey, together with her rising negative ratings, drew the most attention last week.

“Hillary isn’t wearing well. It seems as if the more people see her, the less they like her,” Dick Morris wrote on the Town Hall Web site last week.

“Now, for the first time, her low likability levels are costing her votes, as Democratic Party voters are abandoning her to support Barack Obama,” said Mr. Morris, who served as a campaign adviser to former President Bill Clinton.

Democrats appear to be moving away from Mrs. Clinton and toward her two strongest rivals, Mr. Obama and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Mr. Zogby said.

“Democratic voters right now say they want someone who stands for what they believe, and that points to Obama and to Edwards,” he said.

Mr. Obama has been calling for a new kind of politics that promises to unite the country, while Mr. Edwards had been running on an economic populism agenda that proposes a major expansion of the government’s social welfare programs for poor and low-income Americans.

Mr. Edwards, who has 16 percent support in the national Gallup poll, is running in first place in the latest Iowa caucus polls at 30.3 percent. He is followed by Mrs. Clinton with 26.8 percent and Mr. Obama with 19.5 percent.

“When you look at Hillary’s numbers in the state polls, and the fact that she has 100 percent name recognition among voters, the fact that she’s polling in the 20s and low 30s is not good,” Mr. Zogby said.

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