Calif. poll: Barack beats Hillary 4% – Feb 3

Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll: Obama
defeats Clinton 4% in Golden State
Other polls show virtual tie in California, New Jersey,
Missouri; but leads 6-20% in Georgia, 31% in Illinois
updated 1:11 a.m. PT, Sun., Feb. 3, 2008
WASHINGTON – Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are running neck-and-neck in California, New Jersey and Missouri two days before the sprawling “Super Tuesday” presidential showdown, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Sunday.
Obama has a slight lead in California and is virtually tied with Clinton in New Jersey and Missouri heading into the biggest day of voting in a U.S. presidential nominating campaign, with contests in 24 states from coast to coast.
“It looks like we have some serious horse races going on with Clinton and Obama,” said pollster John Zogby said. “However it turns out, we can be pretty sure it is too close to be resolved on Tuesday.”
Obama, an Illinois senator who would be the first black U.S. president, has a comfortable 20-point lead in Georgia fueled by a more than 3-to-1 advantage over Clinton among black voters.
In the Republican race, Arizona Sen. John McCain has double-digit leads on Mitt Romney in New York, New Jersey and Missouri but narrowly trails the former Massachusetts governor in California, the biggest prize on “Super Tuesday.”
Romney leads McCain by 37 percent to 34 percent in California. The poll’s margin of error is 2.9 percentage points.
California could be Romney’s last stand,” Zogby said. “If he wins there, it may not be a whole new ballgame, but it can give those Republicans who oppose McCain hope they still have a chance to stop him.”
The Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby tracking poll surveyed the presidential races in both parties in California, New Jersey and Missouri.  The polls, taken Thursday through Saturday, also included the Republican race in New York and the Democratic race in Georgia. Polling will continue through Monday.
Seesaw battles
Both parties have staged tight, seesawing battles for the nominations for November’s presidential election.  Clinton, the New York senator, and Obama split the first four Democratic contests – Obama won Iowa and South Carolina, while Clinton won New Hampshire and Nevada.
In California, the poll found Obama led Clinton by 45 percent to 41 percent, with a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. Clinton held statistically insignificant 1-point leads on Obama in New Jersey and Missouri, well within the margin of error of 3.4 percentage points in both surveys.
Both candidates have established a strong base of support and are holding on to it ahead of Tuesday’s voting, the poll found. Clinton leads among women, Hispanics and elderly voters. Obama leads among blacks, men and young voters.
“They are running very close, essentially evenly split, among most of the rest of the sub-groups,” Zogby said. “It is a very tight, very contested race on almost every level.”
In the Republican race, McCain is riding a wave of momentum after consecutive wins over Romney in South Carolina and Florida, and is hoping a strong showing on Tuesday will put him on the path to the nomination.
He held big leads over Romney in New York, 49 percent to 23 percent, and in New Jersey, 54 percent to 23 percent. In Missouri, McCain led former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 36 percent to 27 percent, with Romney running third at 22 percent.
The margins of error in New York and Missouri were 3.3 percentage points, and in New Jersey it was 3.4 percentage points.
The key for candidates in both parties is to win delegates, who vote on the nominees at this summer’s national party conventions. More than half of the total Democratic delegates are up for grabs on Tuesday, and about 40 percent of the Republican delegates.
Unlike Republicans, though, Democrats distribute delegates in proportion to their vote statewide and in individual congressional districts. That means candidates can come away with big chunks of delegates even in states they lose.
As a result, neither Obama nor Clinton are likely to deal a knockout blow on Tuesday, prolonging their battle for the nomination to later contests in February, or to March and beyond.
In contrast, most Republican contests are winner-take-all when awarding delegates, meaning a strong day by McCain could give him a commanding lead.
(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters “Tales from the Trail: 2008” online at http://blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)
California state poll shows
huge McCain, Obama gains
San Francisco Chronicle political writers
Sunday, FEBRUARY 3, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO – A startling surge of support for Barack Obama has catapulted the Illinois senator into a virtual tie with Hillary Rodham Clinton in California’s Democratic presidential primary, a Field Poll released Saturday shows.
Arizona Sen. John McCain lengthened his lead in the state Republican primary, grabbing a 32 to 24 percent edge among likely voters over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was at 13 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 10 percent.
But the Democratic numbers are the shocker. Clinton, a longtime California favorite, saw her once-commanding lead slip to two percentage points, 36 to 34 percent, in the new survey. That’s down from the New York senator’s 12 percentage point lead in mid-January and a 25 percentage point margin over Obama in October.
But with 18 percent of Democratic voters still undecided just days before Tuesday’s primary, the election is still up for grabs, said Mark DiCamillo, the poll’s director.
“It’s an unusually volatile election, with a very high number of undecided voters and so many moving parts,” he said. “It could be a very, very close election.”
The head-to-head matchups between the Republican and Democratic candidates highlight both Clinton’s loosening hold on California voters and McCain’s growing strength in the state.
Clinton now clings to a bare 45 to 43 percent lead over McCain in a projected California presidential vote, down dramatically from her 17 percentage point margin just two weeks ago. Obama now holds a stronger 47 to 40 percent margin over the Arizona senator, but that’s only half the 14 percentage point advantage he had in mid-January.
Both Democrats still run well ahead of Romney, collecting more than 50 percent of the vote in those matchups.
Obama’s California campaign team said the latest polls reflect a hard-charging effort to track down potential voters in every precinct – undeterred by polls that showed the Illinois senator behind by double digits here for most of the race.
“If we hadn’t laid the groundwork for the last year, we couldn’t be delivering now,” Debbie Mesloh, spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, said Saturday.
Averell “Ace” Smith, Clinton’s California campaign manager, said the last-minute dead heat is to be expected in the nation’s most populous state, which is “critical” to Clinton’s effort to win the nomination.
“We always knew it would tighten,” he said. “But we’re incredibly confident in the organization we have to get out the vote.”
The new poll shows why Obama’s campaign has been targeting decline-to-state voters, who can cast ballots in the Democratic primary. While Clinton has a 37 to 31 percent lead over Obama among Democrats, Obama leads by an overwhelming 54 to 32 percent among nonpartisans, who will make up an estimated 13 percent of the primary voters.
The poll also highlights the dramatic split the Clinton-Obama battle has caused in the state’s Democratic Party. Rich versus poor, young versus old, liberal versus conservative, men versus women: Each of those groups has lined up on different sides of the primary divide.
While people aged 18 to 29 back Obama by a margin of 11 percentage points, voters 65 and older support Clinton, 40 to 18 percent. Voters with household incomes of $40,000 or less back Clinton by an advantage of 11 percentage points, while those making $80,000 or more are strong Obama supporters.
Obama attracts voters who call themselves liberal, who have gone to graduate school and who are from the Bay Area, which backs him 41 to 31 percent. Clinton’s strength is among conservatives and moderates, those with a high school education and residents of sprawling Los Angeles County, where she holds a 42 to 34 percent lead.
There’s also a broad ethnic and gender gap between the campaigns. While white voters are split evenly between Clinton and Obama, the Illinois senator, whose late father was a black African, has a 55 to 19 percent lead among black voters, while Latinos back Clinton 52 to 19 percent.
Among men, Obama holds a 13 percentage point lead, the same advantage Clinton holds among women.
But for Clinton, even her good numbers show some ominous changes. In mid-January, the Field Poll showed her with a 19 percentage point lead among women and a huge 59 to 19 percent advantage with Latino voters. In two weeks, much of that backing has melted away.
While part of the reason for the huge number of undecided voters is last week’s departure of John Edwards from the race, most of it seems to be honest angst among Democrats pressed to make a choice between two favored candidates, DiCamillo said.
“This is the Democratic rank and file having a hard time making a choice, because they like them both,” he said.
On the Republican side, McCain continues to make an astounding comeback in a state where he was virtually given up for dead just months ago. He’s moved from 12 percent in December to 22 percent in mid-January to 32 percent and the lead in the most recent poll.
“McCain’s had a very good month,” DiCamillo said. “He also benefits from Huckabee, who peels off some votes from Romney.”
McCain’s lead comes courtesy of a strong showing among moderate and moderately conservative Republicans, where he holds a 39 to 16 percent advantage over Romney.
Steve Schmidt, a senior strategist for McCain, said the new poll numbers reflect a national surge for the Arizona senator.
“From California to Massachusetts, Sen. McCain is on the move and getting ready for a big night on Tuesday,” said Schmidt.
But Romney spokeswoman Sarah Pompeii said the latest figures will not stop them from pushing hard in California.  So much of the election still depends on who turns out to vote on Tuesday, which DiCamillo admitted is the hardest thing to project.
“There are cautionary notes,” he said. “With those big differences among (Democratic) subgroups, an unexpectedly large turnout by any one of them can shift the final result. We don’t know if Obama’s surge will continue or if something will arrest it in the days before the election.”
Both Democratic campaigns were working hard in the Bay Area on Saturday. Chelsea Clinton, the 27-year-old daughter of Sen. Clinton, spoke Saturday to hundreds of students at Oakland’s Mills College, while Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was in San Francisco to boost Obama’s campaign.
Kerry was pleased Obama was closing the gap in California, but warned that “we’ve got to try even harder over the next few days because there are all of these absentee ballots out there – people who voted a few weeks ago when they thought the race was a foregone conclusion (for Clinton). It’s proven not to be.”
The poll was based on a telephone survey of 511 likely voters in the Democratic primary and 481 likely voters in the Republican primary and was conducted between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points among Democrats, plus or minus 4.6 percentage points among Republicans and plus or minus 4.2 percentage points among general election voters.
Chronicle staff writer Joe Garofoli contributed to this report. E-mail the writers at jwildermuth@sfchronicle.com and cmarinucci@sfchronicle.com.
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