WASHINGTON Democrat Barack Obama would narrowly defeat Republican John McCain if they were matched today in the presidential election, while McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton are running about even, according to new general-election sentiment since the Super Tuesday contests.
Obama outpaces Clinton in a matchup against McCain among men, minorities and moderates in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Monday. And she does no better than Obama when pitted against McCain among two groups that have supported her so far: women and whites.
Recent primaries and Mitt Romney's departure from the Republican race have made McCain the heavy favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination. Clinton and Obama are locked in a Democratic battle that may take weeks or even months to resolve.
When she is paired against McCain in a general election matchup, she gets 46 percent to his 45 percent, a tie, according to the poll. Obama edges McCain, the Arizona senator, 48 percent to 42 percent in their pairing.
"We bring in voters who haven't given Democrats a chance" in the past, said Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, citing the Illinois senator's support from independents and other groups.
Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, spoke of her backing from women and Hispanics and said, "Hillary Clinton has a coalition of voters well-suited to winning the general election."
One reason McCain holds his own against Clinton is his support from men, who prefer him to the New York senator by 9 percentage points. That compensates for her 11-point advantage among women.
Obama does better than Clinton with men when paired against McCain, splitting the male vote with the Arizona senator. Obama does especially well with men under 45: He defeats McCain by 9 points among younger men, while McCain defeats Clinton by 7 points.
Meanwhile, Obama's advantage over McCain among women is about the same as Clinton's, blunting her edge in a group that has been the core of her strength in her fight for the Democratic nomination. Women favor Obama over McCain by 12 points, and favor Clinton over McCain by 11.
Obama gets 74 percent of the votes of minorities when paired against McCain, 7 points more than Clinton. Echoing a pattern seen in most Democratic primaries so far, Obama does better than Clinton among blacks, while she attracts slightly more Hispanic support.
Yet among whites, who have preferred Clinton to Obama in most contests this year, she has no advantage when each is paired against McCain. Both get 37 percent of whites' backing, trailing McCain substantially.
Obama slightly outdoes Clinton against McCain among moderates, a group that comprised almost half the voters in the 2004 general election and that both parties will contest fiercely in November's general elections. Obama gets 51 percent of their votes against McCain, compared with Clinton's 45 percent.
While Obama has done better than Clinton among independents in their fight for the Democratic nomination, that advantage does not show up when each is pitted against McCain. Each Democrat gets four in 10 independent votes to McCain's one-third with those voters, who will be a major target of both parties' campaigns this fall.
In a finding that underscores both McCain's cross-party appeal and the bitterness of the fight for the Democratic nomination, about one-third of Obama's supporters picked McCain when asked their preference in a Clinton-McCain general election matchup. Nearly three in 10 Clinton backers said they would vote for McCain over Obama.
In the fight for their party's nomination, Clinton has a 46 percent to 41 percent edge over Obama, the Illinois senator. That represents virtually no change from last month but a significant tightening since last year, when the New York senator led comfortably in most surveys.
The poll showed that Clinton's support from whites for the nomination grew faster than Obama's, leaving her with a 47 percent to 36 percent edge over him with those voters.
White women overwhelmingly favor Clinton while white men are split evenly between the two Democrats. And an age differential persists: Clinton wins older women overall, while Obama gets younger men.
In the Republican race, McCain is well ahead of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 44 percent to 30 percent. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has 9 percent.
McCain has won more state GOP contests that Huckabee and is far ahead in the fight for delegates who will pick the Republican nominee. Even so, the poll illustrates that McCain will have to improve his standing within his own party if he is to count on solid GOP support in November.
McCain failed to win support from half of Republicans polled in the GOP race, showing he has yet to emerge as a clear-cut favorite among his party's rank-and-file. In addition, he was backed by only three in 10 white evangelical and born again Christians and just four in 10 conservatives pivotal parts of the GOP.
The survey was conducted from Feb. 7-10 and involved telephone interviews with 1,029 adults. It had an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.Included were 520 Democrats, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.3 points, and 357 Republicans, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.2 points.
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