By Jon Cohen and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has consolidated her place as the front-runner in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, outpacing her main rivals in fundraising in the most recent quarter and widening her lead in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
For the first time, Clinton (N.Y.) is drawing support from a majority of Democrats -- and has opened up a lead of 33 percentage points over Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Her popularity, the poll suggests, is being driven by her strength on key issues and a growing perception among voters that she would best represent change.
The new numbers come on the heels of an aggressive push by Clinton to dominate the political landscape. She unveiled her health-care proposal and then appeared on all five Sunday news shows on the same day -- all while her husband, former president Bill Clinton, went on tour to promote a new book. Within the past month, at least one Clinton has appeared on television virtually every day, increasing the campaign's exposure among millions of Americans.
Yesterday, her campaign announced that it had topped Obama for the first time in a fundraising period, taking in $22 million in the past three months in funds that can be used for the primary campaign, to Obama's $19 million.
When all funds raised in the period were included, Clinton raised a total of $27 million in the quarter and Obama took in $20 million. While Obama topped her performance in the first two fundraising periods this year, the two are virtually even in the amount they have raised for the primaries, with Obama bringing in about $75 million for the nominating contests and Clinton about $72.5 million.
Even with the avalanche of publicity the Clintons have received, the Post-ABC News poll suggests that there is more than name recognition at work.
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 53 percent support Clinton, compared with 20 percent for Obama and 13 percent for former senator John Edwards (N.C.).
Despite rivals' efforts to portray her as too polarizing to win the general election, a clear majority of those surveyed, 57 percent, said Clinton is the Democratic candidate with the best chance on Nov. 4, 2008. The percentage saying Clinton has the best shot at winning is up 14 points since June. By contrast, 20 percent think Edwards is most electable and 16 percent think Obama is, numbers that represent a huge blow to the "electability" argument rivals have sought to use against her.
One of the central claims of Obama's campaign is that he is best suited to lower partisan tensions in Washington. But, in this poll, more see Clinton as best able to reduce partisanship.
On major issues, Democrats are far more likely to trust her than her main competitors -- 52 percent trust her most on Iraq, compared with 22 percent who trust Obama most on the war and 17 percent who trust Edwards most. On health care, 66 percent trust her most to handle the issue, compared with 15 percent for Obama and 14 percent for Edwards. Half see Clinton as the candidate who best reflects the "core values" of the Democratic Party.
Democrats remain roughly evenly divided over whether they want a candidate of change or of experience, the dichotomy that has been widely used to sum up the party's race so far. Fifty percent said they prefer a candidate who emphasizes a new direction, and 42 percent said they want a proven, steady leader.
In both cases, support for Clinton has grown.
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.