WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton now leads John McCain by 9 points in a head-to-head presidential matchup, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll that bolsters her argument that she is more electable than Democratic rival Barack Obama. Obama and Republican McCain are running about even.
Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain listens to questions during a news conference at the Miami's Children Hospital in Miami, Florida April 28, 2008. [Agencies]
The survey released Monday gives the New York senator and former first lady a fresh talking point as she works to raise much-needed campaign cash and persuade pivotal undecided superdelegates to side with her in the drawn-out Democratic primary fight.
Helped by independents, young people and seniors, Clinton gained ground this month in a hypothetical match with Sen. McCain, the GOP nominee-in-waiting. She now leads McCain, 50 percent to 41 percent, while Obama remains virtually tied with McCain, 46 percent to 44 percent.
Both Democrats were roughly even with McCain in the previous poll about three weeks ago.
Since then, Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary, raising questions anew about whether Obama can attract broad swaths of voters needed to triumph in such big states come the fall when the Democratic nominee will go up against McCain. At the same time, Obama was thrown on the defensive by his comment that residents of small-town America were bitter. The Illinois senator also continued to deal with the controversial remarks of his longtime Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
"I don't think there's any question that over the last three weeks her stature has improved," said Harrison Hickman, a Democratic pollster unaligned in the primary. He attributed Clinton's gains to people moving from the "infatuation stage" of choosing the candidate they like the most to a "decision-making stage" where they determine who would make the best president.
Added Steve Lombardo, a GOP pollster: "This just reinforces the sentiment that a lot of Republican strategists are having right now -- that Clinton might actually be the more formidable fall candidate for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that Obama can't seem to get his footing back."
The AP-Ipsos poll found Clinton and Obama about even in the race for the Democratic nomination. Underscoring deep divisions within the Democratic Party -- and a potentially negative longer-term impact -- 30 percent of Clinton supporters and 21 percent of Obama supporters said they would vote for McCain in November if their preferred candidate didn't win the nomination.
Obama leads Clinton in pledged delegates, but she has the advantage among superdelegates with about a third yet to make up their minds.
Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said Monday that one of the two must drop out of the race after the primary season wraps up in June so Democrats can unite before the late-summer convention and the fall campaign.
He also urged undecided superdelegates -- members of the Democratic National Committee as well as Democratic governors and members of Congress -- to side with either Clinton or Obama before the August convention so the party can come together to take on McCain. The Arizona senator clinched the GOP nomination last month and has been campaigning freely since.
Also on Monday, the head of the Republicans' House campaign committee said the party would rather face Obama in November because the GOP believes Clinton would be more of a threat to McCain among moderate voters.
Said Tom Cole, a congressman from Oklahoma: Obama "is by any definition very liberal, to the left of Hillary Clinton, in a center-right country. That is very, very helpful to us."
Nearly half the people in the AP-Ipsos poll said the protracted Democratic primary will hurt their party's chances in November; more Obama supporters than Clinton backers said they had that fear.
Overall, people said they trusted Clinton and Obama about the same to handle Iraq and the economy; McCain got similar ratings on Iraq but trailed both Democrats on the economy. And while roughly the same percentage of people said they trusted both Democrats to understand their problems, fewer trusted McCain.
When pitted against McCain, Clinton now wins among independents, 50 percent to 34 percent, when just a few weeks ago she ran about even with him with this crucial group of voters. Clinton also now does better among independents than Obama does in a matchup with McCain.
Clinton has a newfound edge among seniors, too, 51 percent to 39 percent; McCain had previously had the advantage. And, Clinton has improved her margin over McCain among people under age 30; two-thirds of them now side with her. McCain leads Obama among seniors, while Obama leads McCain among those under 30 but by a smaller margin than Clinton does.
She also now leads among Catholics, always an important swing voting group in a general election, and improved her standing in the South as well as in cities and among families making under $25,000 a year. But she lost ground among families making between $50,000 and $100,000; they narrowly support McCain.
The poll, taken April 23-27, questioned 1,001 adults nationally, with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Included were interviews with 457 Democratic voters and people leaning Democratic, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.6 points, and 346 Republicans or GOP-leaning voters, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.3 points.