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 Friday, May 30, 2008

Clinton falls behind Obama in California, Poll Says


Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer

Friday, May 30, 2008

A new poll of California voters appears to undercut Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's argument that she is the stronger presidential candidate in big states, showing that her long-standing support in the nation's most populous state has eroded among Democrats - and even women.

The latest Field Poll shows that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama - who lost the Feb. 5 California primary to Clinton by nine points - is now preferred as the party nominee by a landslide 51 to 38 percent among the state's Democrats, according to a poll of 914 likely party voters taken May 16-27.

And in a head-to-head contest with presumed GOP nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama does as well as Clinton, both of them beating the Republican by 17 points among a cross section of voters likely to cast ballots in November.

Obama also leads McCain 59 to 24 percent among critical decline-to-state or independent voters, who make up 20 percent of the California electorate, the poll showed.

With just days until the final primaries in Puerto Rico on Sunday and in South Dakota and Montana on Tuesday, the poll shows Clinton of New York also has lost ground among her base voters in critical California - the state that represents the biggest cache of Electoral College delegates and where both she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have long enjoyed strong support.

Women, who have given Clinton a consistent edge in California, now support Obama by 49-41 percent, the poll shows.

"Women have pretty much come 'round to accepting Obama," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. He said the erosion of ground under Clinton in California is the result of Democrats' growing acceptance of the outcome of the primaries and the fact that Obama could have the required number of delegates for the party nomination by as early as next week.

Obama apparent winner

"I think voters here and elsewhere have been viewing the events of the last two or three months as the nomination battle has unfolded, and Californians are coming to the conclusion that Obama is the delegate winner," DiCamillo said. "They seem to be satisfied with backing Obama as the nominee.

"Many California Democrats are probably anxious to get the general election started and to stop the intramural battle between Obama and Clinton," he said.

The poll shows that while Clinton still leads Obama among three categories of voters - those over 65, those with a high school education or less and those earning less than $40,000 a year - Obama now bests the former first lady in all other age, educational groups and income levels.

In breakdowns among voters by ethnicity, Clinton leads only among Latinos - by more than 2-1 - though Obama is ahead among white non-Hispanics by a whopping 56-34 percent, among African Americans by a huge 76-13 percent and favored by Asians by 56-33.

DiCamillo said the poll showed some lingering resentment as 22 percent of Clinton supporters said they are "not likely" to vote for Obama in the general election, and 17 percent of Obama's backers said they are "not likely" to back Clinton should she be the nominee.

With Obama appearing to be moving quickly to round up the delegates needed to claim the nomination, the changing opinions revealed in the Field Poll are being reflected on the public stage. Rep. Dennis Cardoza of Atwater (Merced County), a state superdelegate who had supported Clinton, recently announced he had switched loyalties and would support Obama. Even current Clinton backers, like Assemblywoman Loni Hancock of Berkeley - now running for state Senate - have publicly predicted that Obama, not Clinton, will be the party's presidential nominee.

Californians want a break

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the poll showed that "California and all of America is looking for a break from the same failed Bush policies that John McCain is offering. This fall voters will have a choice between the George Bush leadership that John McCain offers and Barack Obama's vision to fundamentally change this country."

Political observers say the poll results in California, a trendsetting state, are a blow to Clinton's dimming hopes of making a successful case to the superdelegates to swing to her side before the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.

"To the extent that California reflects a cross section of America, (the poll) demonstrates that the Democrats will have little trouble reuniting behind Obama in a campaign for the presidency in November," said Phil Trounstine, founder of San Jose State University's Survey and Policy Research Institute and a communications consultant and pollster who has donated to Obama's campaign. "It shows Hillary Clinton is no longer seen as the standard-bearer for the party; that role has now been taken over by Barack Obama. She's not big in the biggest state anymore, the biggest prize of all American politics."

But Clinton supporter David Rapaport of Palo Alto - one of dozens who wrote to The Chronicle this week insisting that they will stick by the former first lady - said polls and party leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who has predicted the race will be over next week, will not put an end to the Clinton campaign. He said that the democratic process demands that the nomination play out, adding, "Let's hold the convention and not seal the fate in the House speaker's chambers - or elsewhere."

Other findings in the Field Poll:

-- Obama by far ranks higher than either Clinton or McCain in favorable-unfavorable ratings among likely state voters in November. He is seen favorably by 62 percent of California voters, compared with 29 percent who see him unfavorably. Clinton, by contrast has a 49-44 percent favorable-unfavorable rating, while McCain has a 46-45 percent favorable-unfavorable rating.

-- A majority of Democratic voters in California say that a "dream ticket" of Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama would increase their chances of supporting the party's ticket in the fall - but fewer Obama supporters favor the Clinton-Obama choice than Clinton supporters favor the Obama-Clinton choice.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points

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