Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wright Controversy Damages Obama, Polls Find

Newly available polling data indicate that Barack Obama's controversial relationship to Reverend Jeremiah Wright has damaged him politically. The Times of London has an overview:

New polls released today suggest that Barack Obama has been damaged significantly by the controversy over his pastor's inflammatory remarks and that the the issue has become a serious threat to his presidential ambitions.

A new national Gallup tracking poll indicates Hillary Clinton regaining her lead over Mr Obama for the first time in a month, now leading him 49 per cent to 42, a 13 point shift to the former First Lady in less than a fortnight.

Mrs Clinton now also holds a 16-point lead over Mr Obama in Pennsylvania, their next contest on April 22, according to a poll for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In addition, Mr Obama has lost his once commanding lead among independent voters to John McCain, the Republican nominee, in a new CBS poll.

Mrs Clinton leads Mr Obama in the Keystone State by 51 per cent to 35. Mr McCain is backed by 46 per cent of independents, to 38 per cent for Mr Obama. The Gallup and Pennsylvania polls were taken at the height of the controversy, but before Mr Obama made a major speech on the issue on Tuesday.

Despite widespread praise for Mr Obama's speech, in which he used the controversy to challenge America to move beyond its current racial tensions, aides to Mrs Clinton now believe that the incendiary comments of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright offer her perhaps her best chance of winning the Democratic nomination.

At the same time, Republican strategists believe that the incendiary and videotaped sermons, in which Mr Wright declares "God damn America", blames US foreign policy for the September 11 attacks, attacks Israel and levels racist insults against the Clintons, offers them a powerful way to destroy Mr Obama if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

Mrs Clinton's chances of winning the nomination narrowed significantly this week after it became almost certain that her efforts to force re-votes in the disputed primary states of Florida and Michigan had failed.

With only ten contests left, Mr Obama has a virtually impregnable lead among elected delegates, but because the race has been so tight, neither candidate is likely to reach the 2,024 needed to clinch the nomination.

This means that the most important audience for both candidates now is the Democratic Party's 800 superdelegates, the congressmen, senators, former presidents, governors and officials who are free to back either candidate and who will very likely determine the nomination.
The Clinton camp believes the sheer vulgarity of Wright's sermons - and the Illinios Senator's refusal to completely divorce himself from them - will cause lasting damage to Obama's electability, a fact that could be used to persuade a number of superdelegates to back the New York Senator.

Clinton, of course, needs to play it cool, avoiding further mudslinging in a campaign already tarnished by race-baiting.

Still, Clinton's certainly benefited from the controversy. She can, with tact, point to Obama's relatively greater vulnerability to likely smear attacks by GOP swiftboating 527s in the general election.

The links to various polls are here:
* FOX: "More Than Half Believe Obama Doesn't Share Views of Pastor Wright."

* Gallup: "
Clinton Holds Onto Lead Over Obama."

* Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "
Clinton Leads by 16 points in Statewide Poll."

* Rasmussen, "
The Impact of Pastor Wright and THE SPEECH on Election 2008."
See more analysis on Obama's polling trends at Memeorandum.