Poll: Clinton lags in quest for male voters

More than eight in 10 Republicans and more than half the married men in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll say they definitely wouldn't vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.

The poll provides an early snapshot of who's ruling out Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, the three leading candidates for the Democratic nomination.

Clinton, who tops national polls of Democrats, is strongest within her party. Only 10% of Democrats said they'd rule her out; nearly three times as many said they wouldn't vote for Edwards.

The new poll found that Clinton would defeat the leading Republican, Rudy Giuliani, in a hypothetical matchup. Still, some Democrats wonder whether she's potentially unelectable or a drag on candidates lower on the ballot, and rivals such as Edwards say they're better bets.

In a general election, the poll suggests that Clinton has the least potential for winning votes from Republicans — 84% say they definitely would not vote for her, compared with six in 10 for either Obama or Edwards. Independents show the least resistance to Obama and the most to Edwards.

The poll found that 36% of women wouldn't vote for Clinton, compared with 50% of men — and 55% of married men. Obama had comparable appeal to women and more to men. Clinton's appeal overall falls as income rises, the reverse of the findings for Obama.

Pollster Mark Penn, a top Clinton strategist, says Clinton's strength against GOP hopefuls is growing. "With candidates who are lesser known, typically we see the opposite pattern happen," he says, citing 2004 nominee John Kerry as an example. Penn also says her appeal to Republican women is rising, and nearly a quarter of them could defect to her in a general election.

Clinton's unfavorable rating in the poll was 45%, vs. 30% for Obama and 31% for Edwards. "A fairly substantial number of ordinary voters have doubts about her," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles.

Even so, he and others say that doesn't mean Clinton is unelectable. Political scientist John White of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., says she benefits from "the demise of the Republican brand" and trends such as more minority and single voters.

Overall, 43% in the poll would not vote for Clinton. Top reasons: They don't like her, her husband or her views. Retired professor Charles Bilbrey of Harrisonburg, Va., 65, a GOP-leaning moderate, calls Clinton "abrasive."

Others cite Clinton's marriage. "My biggest reason is she put up with her husband" after his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, says Republican Betty Muse, 77, a retired nutrition director in New London, N.C.

Political scientist Gerald Benjamin at the State University of New York at New Paltz says old scandals "certainly will surface" if Democrats nominate her. Mark Mellman, Kerry's pollster in 2004, says they won't matter much. "People know who she is. There's not a lot you can tell them that's going to change their fundamental perception."

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