McCain out in front? Update: AP says possibly

Politico has its hands on internal polling from Team McCain and the RNC which has them feeling good about their chances in November. McCain leads both Democratic contenders well outside the margins of error. He has consolidated Republican support while extending his reach to moderates — and even some Democrats:

Internal polling data, presented privately last week at the Republican National Committee’s state chair meeting and provided to Politico, shows John McCain with a solid lead over both his potential general election rivals. Powered by the same appeal to Democrats and independents that fueled his primary election success, McCain is leading Barack Obama 48 percent to 42 percent and Hillary Clinton 51 percent to 40 percent according to RNC polling done late last month.

He’s moved ahead of the two Democrats by consolidating support among Republicans, but also by retaining his backing among a wide swath of independents and picking up a small chunk of cross-party support.

Among independents, McCain leads Obama 48 percent to 39 percent and Clinton 54 percent to 34 percent. Among Democrats, he picks up 20 percent in a race against Obama and leads Barack Obama 48 percent to 39 percent and Senator Clinton 54 percent to 34 percent.

It’s a pretty remarkable showing, given a couple of opposing currents in 2008. The gap in party affiliation continues to grow in favor of the Democrats, and after eight years of an unpopular President, Republicans should be in deep trouble for November. In fact, most analysts figured that either Obama or Hillary could easily beat whomever the GOP offered as its sacrificial lamb this fall.

McCain, though, turns out to be the near-perfect Republican candidate in this election, and he has the Democrats to thank for it. Instead of triangulating to the center, both Obama and Hillary have run to the far Left. They have embraced the populism that failed John Edwards in two successive cycles and pushed the Democrats farther Left than any time since 1972. Meanwhile, McCain’s existing credibility with independents and moderates has allowed him to quietly gain supporters without alienating the Republican base — again, thanks to the leftward push of the two Democrats.

Howard Dean claims that this is just a passing phase. McCain doesn’t have a “well-formed image” with American voters, the DNC chair explains, but he fails to explain how Barack Obama’s three years in the Senate and lack of visibility on any major issue compares to McCain’s quarter-century of high-profile leadership. McCain has attracted centrists and independents precisely because people know McCain well — and they’re beginning to learn about Barack Obama.

Update: The AP — not known for its bias towards Republicans — sees Obama and Hillary both heading south in a general election:

Republican Sen. John McCain has erased Sen. Barack Obama’s 10-point advantage in a head-to-head matchup, leaving him essentially tied with both Democratic candidates in an Associated Press-Ipsos national poll released Thursday.

The survey showed the extended Democratic primary campaign creating divisions among supporters of Obama and rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and suggests a tight race for the presidency in November no matter which Democrat becomes the nominee. ….

An AP-Ipsos poll taken in late February had Obama leading McCain 51-41 percent. The current survey, conducted April 7-9, had them at 45 percent each. McCain leads Obama among men, whites, Southerners, married women and independents.

Clinton led McCain, 48-43 percent, in February. The latest survey showed the New York senator with 48 percent support to McCain’s 45 percent. Factoring in the poll’s margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, Clinton and McCain are statistically tied.

If McCain is winning independents and married women against Obama, then the Democrats will be in for a very unhappy November.