- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

The increasingly nasty campaign between Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton is hurting them among independent and swing voters in key battleground states, and in the process is making Sen. John McCain the more appealing candidate, according to election pollsters.

Despite an unpopular war in Iraq and an economy tilting toward recession, issues on which Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have been hammering the Republicans for more than a year, the conservative Republican senator who supports the war and says he still has a lot to learn about economics has edged ahead in national matchup polls and in pivotal states such as Pennsylvania and Florida.

“It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the Democrats, with Obama and Hillary continuing to snipe at each other, beginning the process of a thousand cuts,” said independent election pollster John Zogby.

“For Obama, it’s his problems with the white vote, which we saw in Ohio, and problems with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright story, and that’s reflected in the national polls, when a month ago, Obama was leading McCain by 6 or 7 points and this month is down by six. That’s a big swing,” Mr. Zogby told The Washington Times on Friday.

“At the same time, Clinton was down by five or six points last month, and by my polls, she’s still down about the same,” he said.

“Both Democrats are experiencing a problem, at least for the moment, among independents, moderates and swing voters. It’s pretty safe to say they can’t win in November unless they get those groups back,” the pollster said.

Other pollsters and campaign strategists have confirmed Mr. Zogby’s view that the Democrats were running into trouble as a result of their fight over the nomination and the debate over racial issues.

“There isn’t much time to heal. If you have a party made up of a disparate coalition of race, ethnicity and gender, that is very precarious and can be a hard thing to repair,” Republican pollster Bill McInturff told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.

“Senator Obama, up until last week, had run such a brilliant campaign that his supporters were pretty confident he was going to be the nominee. Now I think that is increasingly in doubt,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said last week on Fox News Channel.

Mr. McCain has been reaping the benefits, the Rasmussen poll reported last week.

“McCain has gained ground in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania,” key states Democrats must carry if they are to win back the White House, the Rasmussen poll said.

Several national head-to-head polls last week painted a gloomy picture for the Democrats and gave the Republicans some reason to be more optimistic about their chances in the general election.

Mr. McCain was leading Mr. Obama by 49 percent to 41 percent in the Rasmussen tracking poll, 47 percent to 44 percent in the Gallup daily poll, and 44 percent to 43 percent in the Fox News poll.

Mrs. Clinton was trailing Mr. McCain 43 percent to 49 percent in the Rasmussen poll, 45 percent to 48 percent in the Gallup poll, but led him in the Fox poll, 46 percent to 43 percent.In the matchup polls in battleground states, Mr. McCain has edged ahead of Mr. Obama by 1 percentage point in the latest Rasmussen poll in Pennsylvania, was up 7 percentage points in Ohio, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, and led by 11 percentage points in Florida, according to a Democratic PPP poll in the Sunshine State.

The same state surveys showed Mr. McCain leading Mrs. Clinton 46 percent to 44 percent in Pennsylvania, statistically tied with her in Ohio (44.7 percent to 45 percent), and ahead of her by 47 percent to 43 percent in Florida.

Recent surveys of Democratic voters revealed their growing frustration over the continuing battle for the nomination that many feared would divide the party and damage its prospects in November.

A CBS poll last week found that 67 percent of “Democratic primary voters do not think their party’s nominee will be decided until the convention, and 44 percent think a protracted nomination fight will leave the eventual nominee weakened for the general election,” the CBS poll found.

“What a difference a month makes, and it’s only March. It’s not looking bright for the Democrats,” Mr. Zogby said.

The Democrats were hurt by their “disunity and lack of clarity. Second, there is the inability thus far to break through to the swing voters, and three, McCain is an appealing candidate, and he is not George W. Bush,” he said.

“The Democrats right now have an authenticity problem, but until they have a candidate, they can’t project a united party and an authentic persona,” he said.

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