Barone on the Obama deflation

Michael Barone takes a look at the polls and sees a definite trend, one that Barack Obama can only hope changes in the next 72 hours. Obama’s support has begun to erode, and his negatives have started reaching the same league as that of Hillary Clinton. He may still win the nomination out of inertia, but that may be the only force working for Obama now:

But what about the voters? Here there are some ominous signs. The latest Fox News poll, conducted after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s appearance at the National Press Club, showed Obama’s favorable/unfavorables at 63 to 27 percent among Democrats, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 73 to 22 percent. Suddenly she’s not the only one with high negatives. And 36 percent of Democrats say they would be disinclined to vote for Obama because of his longtime relationship with his former pastor. There’s more bad news in The Pew Research Center poll of Democrats. Obama’s national lead among Democrats is down from 49 to 39 percent to a statistically insignificant 47 to 45 percent.

These results are not outliers. The Rasmussen tracking poll showed Obama leading Clinton 49 to 41 percent before Wright spoke to the National Press Club. Afterward the numbers were 46 to 44 percent in favor of Clinton. The Gallup Poll had Obama leading Clinton 50 to 41 percent the night before the Pennsylvania primary. The results reported May 1 were Clinton 49 percent, Obama 45 percent.

Obama’s standing as a general election candidate also seems to have taken a hit. Gallup showed him tied with John McCain 45 to 45 percent before the Wright appearance and trailing 47 to 43 percent afterward; at the same time, it shows Hillary Clinton tied with McCain 46 to 46 percent. Similarly, Rasmussen has McCain now ahead of Obama 46 to 43 percent and McCain tied with Clinton 44 to 44 percent.

Barone believes that one problem for Obama wasn’t so much what Jeremiah Wright said, but how Obama handled it. He started off declaring that Wright had given us an opportunity to talk about race in his March 18th speech in Philadelphia, but that quickly changed into a “distraction” when it became apparent that race wasn’t really the issue with voters and the Wright Stuff. He also asserted that he could never disown Wright on March 18th, only to reverse himself and throw Wright under the bus six weeks later.

Even those two issues become secondary, though, to what Wright said. American voters wonder how Obama could have remained oblivious for 20 years to Wright’s passionate belief that the US invented AIDS as a genocidal tool against people of color, as well as Wright’s affection for Louis Farrakhan. The latter seems especially suspicious, given Wright’s high-profile accolade to Farrakhan through Trinity United Church of Christ last year. Suddenly declaring that he found it offensive makes Obama look either disingenuous or unbelievably uninformed, neither of which commends his judgment to voters.

North Carolina will demonstrate whether Obama’s campaign has begun to run out of steam. He was widely expected to lose Indiana, although Obama thought he could keep it close until last week. Now he’s all but conceded the state, and will likely focus on shoring up North Carolina instead. If he can’t deliver a win there, he will be looking at the wrong end of a late-campaign rout — and superdelegates will find themselves on the spot to a greater degree than ever.