Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s popularity in Democratic presidential-preference polls has fallen in the nation’s first caucus and primary states in the face of increasing support for her chief rivals for the 2008 nomination.

Pollsters said her weaknesses in Iowa and New Hampshire were the result of the growing popularity of two major opponents — former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — and their populist economic messages, as well as a deepening antipathy toward her among Democratic-leaning independents who dislike her support for the war in Iraq and who question her electability.

“I think Hillary strikes these voters the same way Senator John Kerry did in 2004. They would really like to vote for someone they really like this time. Hillary doesn’t fit that characterization right now,” said pollster Del Ali of Research 2000, who conducted polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

His findings mirror more recent polling showing a similar national decline in support. “There’s been erosion,” said pollster John Zogby. “She’s polling in the low- to mid-40s nationally.”

The New York Democrat, who has been her party’s clear front-runner, came in a distant fourth in an Iowa presidential poll of 600 likely voters conducted Dec. 18 to 20, drawing 10 percent in a crowded field of contenders. Mr. Edwards, the Democrats’ 2004 vice-presidential nominee, and Mr. Obama were tied in first place with 22 percent each, followed by outgoing Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack with 12 percent.

In New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary follows the Iowa caucuses, polls showed Mrs. Clinton in a dead heat with Mr. Obama, who was greeted like a rock star in a whirlwind of standing-room-only appearances across the state last month and has since seen his political support skyrocket nationally.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama drew 22 percent and 21 percent respectively late last month, while Mr. Edwards took third place with 16 percent. One month before, Mr. Obama was trailing Mrs. Clinton by 23 points.

Mr. Ali, who interviewed 600 likely voters in New Hampshire, said its electorate was made up of “a lot of independents. These are the same people who loathe [President] Bush, loathe the Iraq war. But deep down, they don’t like Hillary Clinton,” he told the Concord Monitor.

In a telephone interview with The Washington Times, he said, “Her chief rivals are very much against the Iraq war and prefer that we begin withdrawal. I don’t think they trust her, to be honest with you.

“Part of the reason is that among the candidates, she seems the most supportive of the war in Iraq and appears less critical of President Bush than the other candidates,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton, who is reportedly planning to announce her 2008 candidacy sometime this month, has yet to campaign in New Hampshire. Democrats in the state say they expect her approval numbers to improve once she begins active campaigning.

“You cannot underestimate Senator Clinton. She has a unique attribute no one else has. She is extremely well-known, has a very good war chest, the ability to raise a lot of money and has a great spouse, Bill Clinton, who will be supporting her,” said Jim Demers, a veteran party strategist in the state.

However, Mr. Demers, who intends to support Mr. Obama if he decides to run, said most of the party’s activists were “uncommitted and waiting for Senator Clinton to come in before they start making up their minds.”

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