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Clinton Widens Lead In Poll

Two months ago, 51 percent of voters seeking a candidate of "strength and experience" picked Clinton as their favorite. Now 62 percent of voters in this category support Clinton.

Among those looking for a "new direction and new ideas," Clinton now has an edge, with support from 45 percent -- compared with 31 percent for Obama. Previously, these "change voters" were split evenly between Clinton and Obama.

Overall, support for Clinton exceeds 50 percent for the first time in the campaign. In five previous Post-ABC polls this year, she hovered in the low to mid-40s.

Support for Obama, now at 20 percent, has softened since early September and stands at its lowest point since he entered the race in February. Support for Edwards has remained essentially stable. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio), and former senator Mike Gravel (Alaska) all registered in the low single digits.

In the new poll, Clinton has gained among both women and men. She leads Obama in the race for the Democratic nomination by 22 percentage points among men, and by 42 points among women. Fully 57 percent of women said they would support Clinton in a primary, compared with 15 percent for Obama and 13 percent for Edwards.

Since early September, Clinton has picked up support both among Democrats (up 9 percentage points) and independents who lean toward Democrats (up 16 points). For the first time, a majority of married women, 56 percent, back Clinton. There is little difference between people who are tracking the campaign closely and those who are paying scant attention: Majorities in both groups said they would vote for Clinton if the election were held today.

Clinton also has a wide lead among whites, besting both Obama and Edwards by a 3 to 1 ratio. She has a narrower edge among African Americans: 51 percent support Clinton, compared with 38 percent for Obama.

Whether she can continue to consolidate support will be the test over the next three months, as the contenders head into the first primary contests in early January. The poll indicates that, at least right now, she is well positioned to do so.

Clinton's backers remain firmly behind her candidacy. Sixty-one percent of those who said they would vote for her support her "strongly." In another sign that Clinton has neutralized skepticism of her acceptability as a candidate, about three-quarters ranked her as a first or second choice. Half rate Obama in the top two; a third do so of Edwards.

After Clinton outraised Obama in the third quarter, her advisers worked to maximize the news. The campaign stayed silent on Monday as Obama announced his $19 million fundraising total, then released its total yesterday morning, just as Obama was poised to begin a major speech about the war in Iraq.

For the first time since Clinton launched her campaign in January, her financial success appears to have turned much more directly on the support of small donors -- a domain that Obama and, to a lesser extent, Edwards had dominated in the first six months of the year. Clinton reported receiving money from 100,000 new donors this quarter -- double the number she recruited during the first three months of the campaign.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 27 to 30, among a national random sample of 1,114 adults, including interviews with 592 self-identified Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. The margin of sampling error for the Democratic sample is plus or minus four percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta and staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.

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