- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

Sen. John McCain, who embittered conservatives when he won the Republican presidential nomination race, is drawing unhappy Republicans back into the fold — not to mention swing-voting independents and even some moderate Democrats.

A new survey shows that the same voters, who five months ago, preferred sending an unnamed Democrat to the White House over an unnamed Republican by 13 percentage points, are now evenly split, due partly to Mr. McCain’s likability and the brawling by the two Democratic candidates.

The Associated Press-Yahoo poll shows Mr. McCain gets about 10 percentage points more now than a generic Republican candidate got last fall; Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton get about five points less than a nameless Democrat got then.

“McCain is using this time to reintroduce himself to voters and regain the support of conservatives which is to his advantage for the moment,” said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. “However, the polls will look very different when there is a Democratic nominee that he has to run against. That is when voters will view this race and John McCain quite differently and not as favorably as they do today.”

The survey suggests that many of those respondents now supporting Mr. McCain like his personal qualities. More than half — up from 40 percent in November — agreed that words such as “likable,” “decisive,” “strong,” “honest” and “experienced” describe Mr. McCain.

In contrast, just 33 percent agreed that the word “honest” describes Mrs. Clinton and only 25 percent found Mr. Obama “experienced.”

Among the bitter Bush backers whom Mr. McCain has drawn back to his campaign, about half say they are conservative.

“McCain has accomplished what so many of the self-appointed experts said couldn’t be done — he has united the GOP and made great progress with independents and Democrats,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed. “Just look at the large percentage of Obama and Clinton supporters who will never support the other and volunteer that they will support McCain if their candidate loses. That number is growing every week.”

Mr. Reed was referring to recent polls that found 19 percent of Obama backers would move to Mr. McCain’s column if Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination: A whopping 28 percent of Clinton supporters would shift to Mr. McCain if the Illinois senator wins the nomination.

Of those who now support the senator from Arizona, about two-thirds voted for President Bush in 2004 but are now disgruntled with his presidency. The other one-third mostly supported a Democrat — but they said they still like Mr. McCain.

As Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama continue to slug it out, Mr. McCain has used his time to define himself, going on a weeklong tour of the places that shaped his life, traveling abroad to meet with foreign leaders and delivering speeches on the economy, taxes and spending.

David Mason, 46, of Richmond, is one of those surveyed, and he said he voted for Mr. Bush in 2004 and supports Mr. McCain this time — but with a caveat.

“It’s not that I’m that much in favor of McCain, it’s the other two [candidates] are turning me off,” he told the Associated Press. Still, he said the Republican’s experiences as a Vietnam War prisoner and in the Senate are “an asset.”

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