Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Republicans like Sen. Barack Obama nearly as much as they like their own likely presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, according to a new Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports poll.

Photos: Clinton, Obama, McCain campaign

The survey determined that a quarter of self-identified Republicans rated Mr. McCain most likable, but nearly as many — 23 percent — chose Mr. Obama as most likable. And among all adults surveyed, Mr. Obama was rated likable by more people than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. McCain combined, underscoring the Illinois senator’s appeal to voters across the political spectrum.

“There is something about Barack Obama that is hard to capture in polling and it’s an enthusiasm, it’s a freshness, it’s an excitement he can generate that will certainly be a factor in the campaign,” said pollster Scott Rasmussen.

Mr. Obama said his message and his brand of campaigning will help him compete in states traditionally hostile to Democrats, and the poll numbers suggest an opening for that approach.

By contrast, likability has never been Mr. McCain’s strong suit — even long-shot Republican candidate Mike Huckabee was rated more likable in the poll, both among all adults and Republicans specifically. Mr. McCain instead is betting on his national-security credentials, and there the survey shows him topping both Democrats combined.

Mr. McCain led with 39 percent to Mr. Obama’s 17 percent and Mrs. Clinton’s 19 percent when those surveyed were asked who “will be the toughest on matters of national security.” Even among self-identified Democrats, Mr. McCain fared decently with one in five rating him toughest.

Mr. McCain is well-aware of his advantage on that score, accusing Mr. Obama last week of misreading the terrorist threat in Iraq.

“I’ve been involved in every major national security challenge for the last 20 years,” the Arizona senator said.

Mr. Obama responded last week that Mr. McCain’s experience didn’t help him make the right judgment on the war by supporting the invasion in the first place.

Mr. McCain will wrap up the Republican nomination if he sweeps primaries in Vermont, Rhode Island, Texas and Ohio today. Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, trails Mr. Obama in delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination, and is looking for wins today to help her regain momentum.

Mr. Rasmussen said part of the New York senator’s strategy has been to try to poke holes in Mr. Obama’s veneer, and that has paid off in the past few days by removing some of the shine.

“That’s the sort of challenge that Barack Obama is going to face — he’s got to convert that intangible into something when the questions come,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

But Mr. Obama brings more than just likability. Despite facing candidates with far more experience in government, he was rated smartest by 26 percent of those polled, more so than Mrs. Clinton, who won 22 percent, and Mr. McCain, who garnered 17 percent. Mr. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, was fourth with 10 percent.

Even among Democrats, Mr. Obama was rated smartest by nearly half — a full 10 percentage points more than Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Obama also was wildly popular among independents and third-party members, 41 percent of whom rated him most likable.

The poll of 1,000 adults was taken Feb. 26 and 27, and found independent candidate Ralph Nader trailed on every measure, coming in below Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, on likability, toughness on national security and on smarts.

A plurality of those polled said they thought Mr. Nader’s new presidential bid will hurt Democrats most, with more than half of self-identified Democrats thinking he will hurt their chances this year.

In 2000, many Democrats blamed Mr. Nader’s independent bid for siphoning off votes from their candidate, Al Gore, helping then-Gov. George W. Bush win the White House.

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