The Los Angeles Times has conducted a national poll for the presidency, and the results show John McCain leading both Democratic presidential contenders despite all of the attention on their primaries. Experience and wartime judgment carry McCain to leads over both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, although within the margin of error for the latter:

As he emerges from a sometimes- bitter primary campaign, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain poses a stiff challenge to either of his potential Democratic opponents in the general election, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.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.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have made ending America’s involvement in the war a centerpiece of their campaigns. And even though a clear majority of those polled said the war was not worth waging, about half of registered voters said McCain — a Vietnam vet who has supported the Bush administration’s military strategy — was better able to deal with Iraq.

In head-to-head contests, the poll found, McCain leads Clinton by 6 percentage points (46% to 40%) and Obama by 2 points (44% to 42%). Neither lead is commanding given that the survey, conducted Feb. 21-25, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

As with any poll, the reliability depends on the sample. The CBS/NY Times poll deliberately skewed their sample towards the Democrats in order to find that Obama led McCain by twelve points. In this case, the sample also has problems. It uses 1246 registered voters, not as reliable for predictive models as likely voters, which usually puts Republicans at a disadvantage. It also only includes 290 Republican primary voters against 436 Democratic primary voters, a definite advantage for Democrats.

And yet, the results show McCain ahead of both Obama and Hillary, and not just on the war and foreign policy. He leads Obama on the economy by eight points, 42%-34%. He also beats Obama on illegal immigration. (Clinton edges McCain on both issues.) And on leadership, McCain beats both Hillary and Obama, with the survey showing him as the “strongest leader” for the country.

These results come from a sample and survey methodology that should have helped the Democrats. Imagine what a clean and balanced sample of likely voters will find.