As N.H. Primary Nears, Clinton Clings to Narrow Lead

SOURCE: Washington Post-ABC News New Hampshire Poll | The Washington Post - December 06, 2007
By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a narrow lead over Sen Barack Obama among Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire, a state whose primary her campaign has viewed as a potential firewall should she stumble in the Iowa caucuses, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Clinton is widely seen as the party's best experienced and most electable presidential candidate, but with most Democratic voters in the state looking for a fresh approach to governing, the first-in-the-nation primary has become fiercely competitive.

With New Hampshire voters set to go to the polls on Jan. 8, Clinton (N.Y.) got 35 percent in the new poll, with Obama (Ill.) close behind at 29 percent. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) ran third with 17 percent and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was fourth at 10 percent. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio), Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) each registered 3 percent or less.

With Iowa shaping up as a competitive three-way contest between Clinton, Obama and Edwards, Clinton also faces a difficult fight in a state with a history of disappointing national front-runners. In the early fall, Clinton led Obama and other Democrats by more than 20 points in a University of New Hampshire-CNN-WMUR poll.

Although Clinton's edge has shrunk, her supporters are more enthusiastic and loyal than are Obama's or Edwards's, and she scores better on measures of strength, experience and electability than any rival. She was also the most trusted on six out of seven issues tested in this poll. But New Hampshire voters said Obama is the most inspiring candidate in the field, by a 2 to 1 ratio over Clinton.

And most Granite State Democrats, like probable caucus-goers in Iowa, regard a "new direction and new ideas" as a higher priority than "strength and experience." That discussion has been a pivot point in the Democratic race, and it largely defines the battle in New Hampshire.

Among the 53 percent who emphasize change, Obama is ahead with 44 percent, to 19 percent each for Clinton and Edwards. By contrast, Clinton has a commanding lead among the 37 percent prioritizing strength and experience: She got 57 percent of these voters, while 14 percent preferred Edwards, 11 percent Richardson and 10 percent Obama.

About half of those polled said Clinton is the Democratic candidate with the best resume for the White House, the strongest leadership skills and the best chance of winning in November 2008. She has wide advantages on each of these attributes.

Edwards's top quality as a candidate is empathy: Twenty percent of voters said he best understands their concerns, putting him nearly even with Obama, at 24 percent, and Clinton, at 28. Clinton and Obama tied on who would do the most to bring needed change to Washington; Clinton's campaign has argued that it takes her level of experience to move entrenched bureaucracies.

Obama has the edge on honesty, with 29 percent calling him the most trustworthy, compared with 21 percent for Clinton and 17 percent for Edwards. As in Iowa, New Hampshire voters see Obama and Edwards as more candid than Clinton. While more than seven in 10 said Obama and Edwards are sufficiently willing to say what they really think about the issues, 55 percent said so about Clinton.

Voters said they trust Clinton on most major issues, including health care and the war in Iraq, each cited by about half of New Hampshire Democratic voters as the election's most important or second-most important issue. The only other issues to reach double digits are the economy and education.

Clinton has an edge of 23 percentage points as the candidate voters trust the most to handle health care and 17-point margins on the economy, Social Security and the federal budget deficit. She has an 11-point lead on handling terrorism and a six-point edge on Iraq. On immigration, Clinton and Obama are preferred by nearly equal percentages.

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