Obama closes gap with Hil­lary in early pri­mary states

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Don­ald Lam­bro

The race be­tween Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial front-run­ners in the early state con­tests has tight­ened in the past month, de­fy­ing na­tional polls that show Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton with a siz­able lead.

De­spite the New York sen­a­tor’s sub­stan­tial lead in na­tion­wide sur­veys, poll­sters and Demo­cratic strate­gists say the race be­tween the for­mer first lady and her strong­est r ival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illi­nois, has grown much more com­pet­i­tive in New Hamp­shire. A re­cent poll in the state, which holds the first pri­mary, shows the two in a dead heat.

Demo­cratic cam­paign ad­vis­ers in the state, which has a his­tory of up­set­ting front-run­ners, say Mr. Obama’s sup­port has widened, es­pe­cially among in­de­pen­dents.

Sup­port­ers of Mr. Obama in the Gran­ite State say the nar­row­ing race is due in part to voter re­ac­tion to Mrs. Clin­ton’s latest at­tack on Mr. Obama.

In an in­ter­view with the QuadCity Times in Iowa, she called Mr. Obama “ir­re­spon­si­ble and frankly naive” for say­ing dur­ing the Demo­cratic de­bate in South Carolina that he would be will­ing to meet with hos­tile world lead­ers such as the pres­i­dent of North Korea.

“There is clearly a tight­en­ing there. The na­tional num­bers are based on name recog­ni­tion and on me­dia cov­er­age. The pri­mary process is very much a se­quen­tial [state-by-state] process,” in­de­pen­dent poll­ster John Zogby said.

“This process is wide open, ab­so­lutely. Hil­lary is the na­tional front-run­ner, but she is not the front-run­ner in Iowa, New Hamp­shire and South Carolina,” three of the early con­tests that will take place in Jan­uary, Mr. Zogby said.

A five-day Amer­i­can Re­search Group (ARG) poll of 600 likely New Hamp­shire Demo­cratic vot­ers con­ducted the last week in July showed Mrs. Clin­ton and Mr. Obama tied with 31 per­cent each.

Mr. Zogby said his polls in the state ear­lier this year had shown the race close, while suc­ceed­ing sur­veys by other or­ga­ni­za­tions showed Mrs. Clin­ton mov­ing into a sub­stan­tial lead.

How­ever, a Ma­son-Dixon poll in June, which showed her draw­ing 26 per­cent to Mr. Obama’s 21 per­cent among likely Demo­cratic vot­ers, moved the Illi­nois sen­a­tor to within strik­ing range of over­tak­ing Mrs. Clin­ton in the piv­otal pri­mary state.

“I think a lot of vot­ers started see­ing a very big dif­fer­ence be­tween Hil­lary and Barack Obama on the is­sue of ne­go­ti­at­ing with other coun­tries. I don’t think vot­ers like nasty and sar­cas­tic ex­changes be­tween the can­di­dates, and she needs to be care­ful that she isn’t per­ceived in a way that seems sar­cas­tic,” said Obama cam­paign ad­viser Jim De­mers, a long­time party strate­gist in the state.

“This re­ally has got­ten the vot­ers’ at­ten­tion,” he said. “There is def­i­nitely move­ment to­ward Obama. I think they rec­og­nize he is the can­di­date of change, and Hil­lary comes across as the tra­di­tional es­tab­lish­ment can­di­date.”

The Clin­ton cam­paign did not re­spond to three re­quests yes­ter­day for a com­ment on Mr. De­mers’ re­marks.

But poll­sters such as Mr. Zogby said they agreed with Mr. De­mers’ char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the two fron­trun­ners.

“I think this is pre­cisely what is go­ing on. She has been run­ning a gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign, try­ing to po­si­tion her­self as the es­tab­lish­ment can­di­date with ex­pe­ri­ence,” Mr. Zogby said. “Obama is by def­i­ni­tion the anti-es­tab­lish­ment change can­di­date.”

Asked to com­ment on the shift­ing poll num­bers in New Hamp­shire, long­time Demo­cratic party strate­gist Donna Brazile said, “Obama is now find­ing his voice and pres­i­den­tial rhythm.”

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