As he emerges from a sometimes- bitter primary campaign, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain poses a stiff challenge to either of his potential Democratic opponents in the general election, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.The findings are particularly important in light of recent left-wing attacks on McCain's purported 100 year commitment to the Iraq deployment, as well as continued attacks on the success of the surge (like Andrew Sullivan's).
The findings underscore the difficulties ahead for Democrats as they hope to retake the White House during a time of war, with voters giving McCain far higher marks when it comes to experience, fighting terrorism and dealing with the situation in Iraq.
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have made ending America's involvement in the war a centerpiece of their campaigns. And even though a clear majority of those polled said the war was not worth waging, about half of registered voters said McCain -- a Vietnam vet who has supported the Bush administration's military strategy -- was better able to deal with Iraq.
In head-to-head contests, the poll found, McCain leads Clinton by 6 percentage points (46% to 40%) and Obama by 2 points (44% to 42%). Neither lead is commanding given that the survey, conducted Feb. 21-25, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The Arizona senator is viewed favorably by 61% of all registered voters, including a plurality of Democrats.
The survey showed that McCain's potential advantages extend even to domestic issues, where he is considered to be most vulnerable. Even though McCain has joked about his lack of expertise on economic issues, voters picked him over Obama, 42% to 34%, as being best able to handle the economy. However, Clinton led McCain on that issue, 43% to 34%.
"I just think he's older, he's more experienced, and he's got the betterment of the country in mind," said Robert Fear, 79, a registered Democrat from Newton, Ill., who said he planned to support McCain in November.
However, the poll indicates that McCain has yet to rally the GOP's conservative base:
Nearly one in four Republican primary voters said they were "unhappy" that he would win the GOP nomination. And of those voters, about half said they would either vote for another candidate in November or stay home, an ominous sign for Republicans at a time when Democrats are expected to be highly motivated.Some have indicated that the response to last week's New York Times hit piece against McCain is evidence that conservatives have turned the corner and will back the Arizona Senator after all.
This hypothesis is not supported by the Times poll, at least for the hardened, Malkinite base. McCain's still got some work to do.
See also my earlier entry on November trial heat matchups, "McCain is Competitive Against Likely Democratic Nominee."