Sunday, March 4, 2007

Front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decline in the polls stems partly from her attack on Sen. Barack Obama, her chief rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, political pollsters said.

The poll numbers changed after the senators traded political blows through their spokesmen when movie mogul David Geffen called Mrs. Clinton a disingenuous, “incredibly polarizing figure” who isn’t electable and appeared to allude to her husband’s past infidelity. Mr. Geffen, a former Clinton ally, is now backing Mr. Obama.

A Fox News survey of 900 registered voters nationwide conducted Feb. 27-28 found Mrs. Clinton’s support had fallen to 34 percent, down from 43 percent the month before. Mr. Obama’s support, however, climbed to 23 percent from 15 percent.

“From a national perspective, there has been an erosion in Hillary’s support among Democrats and especially among independents, while Obama’s numbers have risen among these voters,” said pollster Del Ali of Research 2000, a media polling firm based in Rockville.

“I think the attack by her campaign on Obama was a negative for her because of a perception that it was calculated, that it was an attempt to break Obama’s momentum. Second, whether fair or unfair, it was seen as the typical Clinton attack machine, where she doesn’t do the attacking, but her surrogates do,” Mr. Ali said.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll completed four days after the attack story broke showed Mrs. Clinton’s support dropping to 36 percent from 41 percent in January, while Mr. Obama’s numbers rose to 24 percent from 17 percent.

The poll also showed that voters overall had a less favorable opinion of Mrs. Clinton, with 49 percent holding a positive impression of her, down from 54 percent.

Pollster David Johnson of Strategic Vision, a Republican media marketing firm, said that his polls in key states — including Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin — showed Mrs. Clinton had “a basic support level of between 30 percent and 35 percent, but she’s never been able to go much beyond that.”

The Clinton campaign’s attacks on Mr. Obama changed the complexion of the campaign and the way some voters perceived her candidacy, Mr. Johnson said.

“The feud knocked the Clintons off their pedestal and affected the polling numbers somewhat,” he said. “She’s still in first place, but there definitely has been erosion in her support among the Democrats.”

Pollsters also say that Mr. Obama’s candidacy has hurt Mrs. Clinton’s campaign among black voters, who were among her husband’s most loyal Democratic supporters during his two terms in office.

Mrs. Clinton had led among black voters in January by 60 percent to 20 percent, but the latest ABC/Washington Post poll shows Mr. Obama leading among blacks, 44 percent to 33 percent.

“Of course, 44 percent is a far cry from the 85 percent of the black vote he will need to win, but it’s quite a turnaround in the past month,” former Clinton campaign adviser Dick Morris wrote Friday on the political Web site.

Mr. Obama’s surge in the polls was especially impressive in Georgia, where increased support from a large black vote has helped to push his approval numbers higher.

“Obama has gone from 18 percent support to 25 percent. Hillary has fallen from 35 percent to 28 percent. He’s really surged in that state,” Mr. Johnson said.

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