VOTERS FAVOR McCAIN OVER CLINTON IN '08

Times Staff Writer

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

Underscoring the New York Democrat's potential 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 Arizona Republican, compared with 36% for the former first lady. In a matchup with Romney, the poll indicated Clinton would win by just 6 percentage points, 42% to 36%.

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

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

Still, the survey spotlighted obstacles to McCain emerging as the GOP standard-bearer. A significant segment of Republicans who call themselves conservatives -- the base of the party -- have an unfavorable opinion of him.

In contrast, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani received highly favorable marks across the party's ideological spectrum. Giuliani has not taken as many steps toward a presidential candidacy as McCain and Romney have, and the poll did not measure how he would perform against Clinton.

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% said they would like to see a Democrat win the White House in 2008, whereas 41% preferred a Republican.

The findings come at a crucial time in the formation of the 2008 presidential field, which is expected to be crowded because neither party has an heir apparent. Competition is underway 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 (D-Ill.), a charismatic African American who has gotten enormous attention since he began publicly musing about a presidential bid, remains obscure enough that 40% 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 doubted that she could draw enough swing voters to win a general election.

"I don't think anyone in the other party is going to vote for her," said Sean McCarthy, 32, a Democratic computer network manager in Los Angeles. "They have been practicing hating her for too long."

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

Romney's religion -- he is a Mormon -- and McCain's age could be more problematic. Fourteen percent of registered voters polled said they would not vote for a Mormon, and the same number said they would not vote for someone who is 72 years old, which will be McCain's age by 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 plus or minus 3 percentage points. The sample included 473 registered Republicans, who were asked about potential GOP candidates; and 585 registered Democrats, who were asked about their party's hopefuls. The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points for Republicans and plus or minus 4 for Democrats.

Among Republicans, the two best-known and most popular potential candidates are Giuliani and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Both were viewed favorably by more than 80% of those polled.

Giuliani, renowned for his leadership role after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, surpassed the 80% favorable mark even among conservative Republicans polled -- in spite of his liberal record on issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control. He has formed a presidential exploratory committee; Rice has said she does not plan to run for president.

The view of McCain is more mixed among Republicans, with 65% of those polled viewing him favorably and 20% viewing him unfavorably.

Among GOP conservatives, about a quarter of those polled expressed an unfavorable opinion of McCain. Some other Republicans regard him with suspicion because they believe he is moving to the right to curry favor with the GOP 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 87% of Republicans polled said that they would back McCain over Clinton -- 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 healthcare policy hurt her reputation. A Times survey in July 1994 found that 59% of Democrats polled had a favorable impression of her -- far fewer than the 79% who view her favorably now.

Some Democrats have been won over by her performance as New York's junior senator. Since taking office in 2001, and during her reelection campaign this year, she has cast herself as a workhorse, not a show horse.

"The first time she ran, I didn't vote for her," said Mary Pollack, 60, a Democrat in New York City. "But I've been impressed about how she didn't steal the spotlight and came to considered conclusions."

Although many Democrats know little about Obama, those polled who had an impression were overwhelmingly supportive -- 54% gave him a favorable rating, and 5% were unfavorable. Sixty-one percent of women polled had a positive impression of him; among men, the figure was 44%.

John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina who was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004, is better known than Obama and is well-liked: 65% of those polled in his party had a favorable impression of him. Still, many Democratic strategists think that if both get into the race, Obama's star power would make it harder for Edwards to position himself as the most prominent alternative to Clinton.

The potential Democratic candidate viewed most negatively was Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the party's 2004 nominee. One-third of Democrats polled had an unfavorable impression of him, while 58% viewed him favorably. Another former Democratic nominee, Al Gore, made a better impression; he was viewed favorably by 74% of Democrats.

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janet.hook@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Possible matchups

When asked whom they would favor in the following matchups if the election for president were held today, registered voters made these choices:

McCain (R): 50% vs. Clinton (D): 36%

Clinton (D): 42% vs. Romney (R):36%

**

Asked which party they would favor if the election were held today, registered voters picked the Democratic Party by 8 points:

Democrats: 49% vs. Republicans: 41%

Source: The Times/Bloomberg Poll

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Sizing up the candidates

Q. What is your impression of the following candidates?

Democratic candidates

(Among Democratic voters)

*--* Haven't Favorable Unfavorable heard enough don't know Sen. Hillary Rodham 79% 18 2 1 Clinton, New York Al Gore, former 74% 22 3 1 vice president John Edwards, 65% 11 23 1 former Nor Carolina sen Sen. John F. Kerry, 58% 34 6 2 Massachusetts Sen. Barack Obama, 54% 5 40 1 Illinois Sen. Joseph R. 31% 8 59 2 Biden Jr., Delaware Gov. Bill 22% 8 70 -- Richardson, New Mexico Sen. Christopher J. 19% 4 75 2 Dodd, Connecticut Sen. Evan Bayh, 18% 2 78 2 Indiana Gov. Tom Vilsack, 15% 3 80 2 Iowa

*--*

Republican candidates

(Among Republican voters)

*--* Haven't Favorable Unfavorable heard enough don't know Rudolph W. 86% 8 6 -- Giuliani, former NYC mayor Condoleezza Rice, 84% 9 6 1 secretary of State Sen. John McCain, 65% 20 13 2 Arizona Newt Gingrich, 59% 26 13 2 former House speaker Gov. George E. 35% 12 51 2 Pataki, New York Gov. Mitt Romney, 21% 13 65 1 Massachusetts Tommy Thompson, 21% 6 71 2 former Wisconsin gov Sen. Chuck Hagel, 10% 8 81 1 Nebraska Sen. Sam Brownback, 8% 4 86 2 Kansas Rep. Duncan Hunter, 8% 3 88 1 El Cajon

*--*

**

Q. Supposing a presidential candidate agrees with you on most issues; for which candidiate could you not vote for because he or she is a/an . . . ? (Up to three replies accepted)

*--* Registered voters Democrats Independents Republicans Woman 4% 4% 3% 6% African American 3% 4% 1% 3% Mormon* 14% 17% 11% 13% 72 years old** 14% 19% 9% 12% Could not vote for 2% 2% 1% 3% any of them Could vote for all of 69% 63% 75% 71% them

*--*

Notes:

*Romney is a Mormon.

**McCain will be 72 years old in 2008.

(--) indicates less than 0.5%. Numbers may not total 100% where multiple responses are accepted.

How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,489 adults, including 1,342 registered voters, 585 who vote Democrat, and 473 who vote Republican, nationwide by telephone Dec. 8 through 11. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation, and random-digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. The adult population was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for all adults, and registered voters, is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For Democratic voters it is 4 percentage points and for Republican voters it is 5. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

Poll results and analysis can be found at: www.latimes.com/timespoll

Source: The Times/Bloomberg poll

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