"Barack Obama is surging ahead of Hillary Clinton in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, though he would face a tough general election against Republican John McCain, who enjoys an advantage on national-security issues."
If Democrats needed another reason to want the nomination fight wrapped up soon, this might serve: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., beats both Clinton and Obama in hypothetical head-to-heads. (Notice how nothing unites a political base quite like having a name to run against.)
"Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain poses a stiff challenge to either of his potential Democratic opponents in the general election," Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times.
"The findings underscore the difficulties ahead for Democrats as they hope to retake the White House during a time of war, with voters giving McCain far higher marks when it comes to experience, fighting terrorism and dealing with the situation in Iraq."
As for McCain, here's guessing Bill Cunningham won't be invited back to many campaign events -- and McCain hasn't scored himself many invites to lunch dates with the right-wing radio cabal.
More remarkable than Cunningham's rant -- three mentions of "Barack Hussein Obama" are par for his radio rant-show course -- was McCain's response. "McCain apologized three separate times for Cunningham's remarks," ABC's John Berman reports.
"He said he takes 'responsibility' for him being here but says he has no idea who chose him and says he doesn't know him and didn't hear the comments when they were uttered but was told about them before he came on stage."
(Sorry -- but did the McCain campaign really not know who this guy was?)
McCain's condemnation of Cunningham brought a mocking rebuke from Rush Limbaugh, and real anger from Cunningham himself. Said Cunningham, in a video posted on his Website (one that included no middle names): "I'm angry at McCain. Why would John McCain repudiate me? I've been able to unite McCain and Obama against me. I might become a supporter of Ralph Nader."
(Don't miss the Rob Portman twist. Taking the stage right after Cunningham, Portman said: "Willie, you're out of control again. So, what else is new? But we love him." Then, alongside McCain at the new conference where he denounced Cunningham, he said he didn't hear all of his comments, per the Cincinnati Enquirer's Howard Wilkinson: "Bill Cunningham is a radio host who is often controversial," the possible McCain running mate said. "That's, I guess, how he makes his living.")
But McCain did win a fan in Obama. "It is a sign that if there is a McCain-Obama general election, it can be intensely competitive but the candidates will attempt to keep it respectful and focused on issues," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.
For now, McCain is too mired in arcane FEC regulations to give much mind to an angry base or a future rival. Nothing -- not even McCain's position on immigration -- produces GOP cringes quite like the prospect of being capped at spending $5 million over the next six months.