Hillary Clinton's presidential chances are slim, poll shows

Popularity mostly limited to own party, she would lose to McCain

December 14, 2006|By Janet Hook | Janet Hook,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Democrats have an overwhelmingly favorable view of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but she would be soundly beaten if she ran for president against Sen. John McCain, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

Underscoring the New York lawmaker's vulnerability, the poll also found that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican little known to most voters, would give Clinton a run for her money.

Given a choice between McCain and Clinton, half of those surveyed said they would vote for the Arizonian, compared with 36 percent for the former first lady. In a match with Romney, Clinton would win by 6 percentage points, 42 percent to 36 percent.

Those findings lend credence to some Democrats' fear that despite Clinton's clear strength within the party, she would prove too polarizing a figure to win the White House.

The poll reinforces the view that McCain, while mistrusted by some in the GOP and expected to face a spirited fight if he seeks his party's nomination, would be a strong general election candidate because of his appeal to independent voters. Half the independents surveyed said they would back McCain; 32 percent supported Clinton, with the rest undecided or naming someone else.

Other poll results highlighted the anti-GOP mood that helped Democrats win control of the next Congress in November's midterm election: Among registered voters, 49 percent said they would like to see a Democrat win the White House in 2008, while 41 percent preferred a Republican.

The findings come at a crucial time in the formation of the 2008 presidential candidate field, which is expected to be crowded because neither party has an undisputed heir apparent. Already, fierce competition is under way for donors and key strategists, and virtually all of the likely candidates are building organizations in the states pivotal to the nomination process, such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

At the same time, most of the anticipated contenders have yet to make much of an impression on voters, the poll found. Even Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat and a charismatic African-American who has received enormous attention since he began publicly musing about a presidential bid, remains obscure enough that 40 percent of the Democrats surveyed said they did not know enough about him to have an opinion on him.

A potential problem for Clinton, on the other hand, is that voters already know so much about her. Almost all of those polled had a strong opinion of her, and many doubt that she could draw enough swing voters to win a general election.

The poll indicated that Clinton's gender and Obama's race do not necessarily loom as big liabilities for them. Only 4 percent of registered voters said they could not vote for a woman for president; 3 percent said they could not vote for an African-American.

Romney's religion -- Mormonism -- and McCain's age could be problems. Fourteen percent of registered voters said they could not vote for a Mormon, and the same number said they could not vote for someone who is 72 years old, which will be McCain's age on Election Day in 2008.

The poll of 1,489 adults, including 1,342 registered voters, was supervised by Times polling director Susan Pinkus. It was conducted Friday through Monday and had a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points. The sample included 473 registered Republicans, who were asked about potential GOP presidential candidates, and 585 registered Democrats, who were asked about their party's hopefuls. The margin of error was plus or minus five percentage points for Republicans and four points for Democrats.

Among Republicans, the two best-known and most popular potential candidates are former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Both are viewed favorably by more than 80 percent of Republicans.

Giuliani, known for his leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks, surpassed the 80 percent favorable mark even among conservative Republicans -- despite his liberal record on issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control. He has formed a presidential exploratory committee. Rice has denied she plans to run for president.

The view of McCain is more mixed among Republicans, with 65 percent viewing him favorably and 20 percent unfavorably. Some regard him with suspicion because they believe McCain, known as a maverick, is moving to the right to curry favor with the Republican establishment.

"I don't like John McCain because he's been a wishy-washy guy," said Delroy Gorecki, 69, a retired lawyer and Republican who lives in St. Augustine, Fla. "I would vote for Giuliani over McCain. At least Rudy has been consistent."

But in a general election race against Clinton, 87 percent of Republicans said they would back McCain -- fueling the view that nothing unites the GOP so tightly as hostility toward Clinton.

Among Democrats, Clinton has done much to improve her image since her husband's first term in the White House, when ethics scandals and her foray into health care policy hurt her reputation. A survey in July 1994 by the Times found that 59 percent of Democrats had a favorable impression of her -- far less than the 79 percent who view her favorably now.

Janet Hook writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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