- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton increased her lead in Pennsylvania this month over rival Sen. Barack Obama, a poll out today shows.

Mrs. Clinton, of New York, stretched her lead to 16 points in March, 51 percent to 35 percent, more than doubling her 7-point advantage last month, according to the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

The momentum for Mrs. Clinton in advance of the state’s April 22 primary comes as Mr. Obama struggles to shake off scrutiny of his close ties to the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose racist sermons have startled potential voters.

The number of Pennsylvania Democrats who have a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama has dropped from 57 percent in February to 47 percent in the March poll.

“That’s a pretty big shift in a month,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, which conducts the poll at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

He said the polling data was collected just as public attention turned to Mr. Wright’s sermons calling the U.S. government racist and making racially charged attacks on Mrs. Clinton.

However, he said the pastor likely compounded problems already afflicting the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania. Mr. Madonna pointed to the “ferocity of the Clinton campaign raising questions about his judgment and his ability to lead. … I’m sure that [the ties to Mr. Wright] reinforced it.”

The poll showed Mrs. Clinton ahead in virtually every demographic group. Mr. Obama still has the advantage among blacks and voters in Philadelphia, but he is behind with young adults — a group he won by large margins in many early primary states.

Male voters are evenly split between the two Democrats, according to the poll, which formerly was known as the Keystone Poll and has tracked opinions of state voters since 1992.

The March 2008 poll showed that 13 percent of Pennsylvania voters remain undecided.

Mrs. Clinton continues to be very popular among the state’s Democrats, with more than six in 10 — 65 percent — reporting a favorable opinion of the candidate. Her favorability ratings have changed little since last summer, the poll showed.

Mrs. Clinton’s supporters most often cite health care — 46 percent — as the issue they think of first when they hear her name, followed by the economy, which scored 17 percent, up from 9 percent in February.

For Obama supporters, the Iraq war was the top issue at 26 percent, followed by a tie among health care, the economy and “change in general,” all at 14 percent.

The poll showed that Pennsylvania Democrats in general most often cite the economy (39 percent), the Iraq war (23 percent) and health care (18 percent) as key issues in the presidential contest — figures that have changed little since last month, according to the poll.

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