POLL: Obama Surges on Electability, Challenges Clinton on Leadership

Barack Obama has knocked down one of the three tent poles of Hillary Clinton's campaign for president, surging ahead of her as the candidate Democrats see as most likely to win in November. He's challenging her on leadership as well, leaving only experience as a clear Clinton advantage in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

On the eve of their debate before the Pennsylvania primary next week, Democrats by a 2-1 margin, 62-31 percent, now see Obama as better able to win in November -- a dramatic turn from February, when Clinton held a scant 5-point edge on this measure, and more so from last fall, when she crushed her opponents on electability.

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The poll finds other pronounced problems for Clinton. Among all Americans, 58 percent now say she's not honest and not trustworthy, 16 points higher than in a precampaign poll two years ago. Obama beats her head-to-head on this attribute by a 23-point margin.

The number of Americans who see Clinton unfavorably overall has risen to a record high in ABC/Post polling, 54 percent -- up 14 points since January. Obama's unfavorable score has reached a new high as well, up 9 points, but to a lower 39 percent.

A favorability rating is the most basic measure of any public figure's popularity; it's trouble when unfavorable views outscore favorable ones. That's now the case for Clinton, alone among the current candidates.

There are other strong signs of the toll of the long Democratic campaign. The number of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who describe the tone of the contest as "mostly negative" has risen by 14 points since February, from 27 percent then to 41 percent now. Those who say so mainly blame Clinton over Obama, by nearly a 4-1 margin, 52 percent to 14 percent. (An additional 25 percent blame both equally.)

In a similar result, half of Democrats say their candidates are "arguing about things that really aren't that important" rather than discussing real issues.

The candidates are at or near dead heats in trust to handle a range of issues, including the economy, the war in Iraq, international trade and terrorism. Clinton's lack of a significant advantage on these, despite her wide edge on experience, is another challenge.

Obama, meanwhile, has largely succeeded in moving past the controversial comments made by the former minister of his church, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; 59 percent of all adults, and 72 percent of leaned Democrats, approve of the way Obama has distanced himself from Wright. (Nearly half of Democrats, however, are concerned the Republicans will use the Wright imbroglio effectively against Obama if he is nominated.)

Nor does the controversy over Obama's remark calling some voters "bitter" seem to have hurt; his favorability rating, though down from January, lost no ground across the nights this poll was done (Thursday through Sunday) as the issue gained volume.

Equally problematic for Clinton in all this is the bottom line: Democrats by 51-41 percent say they'd like to see Obama win the nomination, his biggest advantage to date.

FIGHT ON – Yet most Democrats are also willing to see Clinton fight on; 55 percent say she should stay in the race even if she loses Pennsylvania. One reason is that about as many, 53 percent, say it's more important to them that their candidate wins, even if that means a longer race.

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