WSJ Poll: Campaign damaging Hillary and Obama

A new Wall Street Journal poll shows that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both taken some damage from the tough campaigning in the Democratic primaries, but that the general election contest for either candidate would still be too close to call. Hillary has lost some strength in her base of working-class whites, however, and that could play havoc with her hopes to ride into Denver with momentum from a sweep of the remaining primaries. Women are less likely to support her as well:

The racially charged debate over Barack Obama’s relationship with his longtime pastor hasn’t much changed his close contest against Hillary Clinton, or hurt him against Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the Journal/NBC polls with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, called the latest poll a “myth-buster” that showed the pastor controversy is “not the beginning of the end for the Obama campaign.”

But both Democrats, and especially New York’s Sen. Clinton, are showing wounds from their prolonged and increasingly bitter nomination contest, which could weaken the ultimate nominee for the general-election showdown against Sen. McCain of Arizona. Even among women, who are the base of Sen. Clinton’s support, she now is viewed negatively by more voters than positively for the first time in a Journal/NBC poll. …

While Sen. Clinton still leads among white Democrats, her edge shrank to eight points (49% to 41%) from 12 points in early March (51% to 39%). That seems to refute widespread speculation — and fears among Sen. Obama’s backers — that he would lose white support for his bid to be the nation’s first African-American president over the controversy surrounding his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. of Chicago.

The last item is more of a “yes, but” point. Yes, Obama managed to defuse the controversy among Democrats. That isn’t really his biggest problem, although it could have contributed to expected losses in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky. The Reverend Wright controversy will have a much bigger impact in a general election, and the WSJ poll shows exactly that. Only 26% of the respondents who saw Obama’s speech have no issue with him; 67% of those pressed to name a concern came up with at least one, while only 28% could name no concern after the speech.

More evidence exists that the effort has damaged both candidates. Both Hillary and Obama have lost ground among white voters, five points in both cases. The poll also shows that the polarization numbers supplied by Gallup yesterday are no fluke. Around 20% of the supporters for both candidates say that John McCain will be their second choice, and not the Democrat. The general election is still seven months away, but the convention is five months out — and that polarization will continue until the nomination has been resolved.

Hillary has another problem, this time in legitimacy. She has almost no chance of overtaking Obama’s lead in pledged delegates by the end of the primaries, and has to rely on convincing superdelegates to choose her instead of Obama. However, 41% of the respondents would see that as illegitimate; oddly, only 38% of African-American voters agree. That question has fewer fence-sitters than just three weeks ago, and the numbers are trending perilously close to a majority. She needs to make her argument better that the superdelegates should act independently, because at the moment it’s not resonating.

John McCain manages to remain within the margin of error with both candidates, even with the party affiliation numbers trending Democrat. Hillary and Obama have registered a lot of voters in this primary cycle, but if they continue their game of chicken, they may become McCain Democrats in the end.

Update: As the TheBigOldDog notes, this poll looks quite different than the daily Rasmussen tracking poll. The rolling seven-day average has McCain up ten over Obama and Hillary by seven, and has majorities against both. Rasmussen also shows Missouri going from toss-up to leans Republican in their Electoral College tracking system.