Obama surges past Clinton

MILWAUKEE Wed Feb 20, 2008 10:25am EST

1 of 9. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama greets supporters during a campaign event in Houston February 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Johnson

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MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Barack Obama has surged past Hillary Clinton to open a big national lead in the Democratic presidential race, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

Obama also leads Republican front-runner John McCain in a potential November election match-up while Clinton trails McCain, enhancing Obama's argument he is the Democrat with the best shot at capturing the White House.

Among Republicans, McCain has a substantial national lead over his last major challenger, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, as he takes his final steps toward clinching the nomination.

Heading into crucial March 4 nominating contests in Ohio and Texas, Obama has gained the upper hand in a close and fierce Democratic duel with Clinton. McCain broke open the Republican race and has driven out most of his leading rivals.

The poll showed Obama with a 14-point edge over Clinton, 52 percent to 38 percent, after being in a statistical tie with the New York senator last month.

Obama's new lead follows a string of 10 wins in February for the Illinois senator, who has moved ahead in the battle for pledged delegates who vote on the party's nominee at the August convention.

"Obama has the hot hand and you can clearly see his momentum in the national numbers," pollster John Zogby said. "This is what happens when you win a bunch of primaries in a row -- or maybe this is why you win a bunch of primaries in a row."

The poll was taken last Wednesday through Saturday, before a weekend controversy over Obama's uncredited recycling of speech lines from a friend, and before Obama captured two more wins in Wisconsin and Hawaii on Tuesday to extend his winning streak.

In the poll, Obama led Clinton among Democrats and independents, in all age groups except seniors and in all income groups except those making under $25,000 a year. He led narrowly among whites and more widely among men. He was tied among women with Clinton, who would be the first woman U.S. president.

Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, was the choice of 4 of 5 black voters. Clinton attracted two-thirds of Hispanic voters, who comprise a big bloc in Texas.

"It can all turn on a dime and it already has turned on a dime. This has been a roller coaster of a race," Zogby said.

OBAMA BEATS MCCAIN

In a head-to-head matchup, Obama beat McCain 47 percent to 40 percent. He led McCain among independents, in all age groups except those above 70, and in all regions but the South.

McCain beat Clinton 50 percent to 38 percent in a head-to-head matchup. The Arizona senator led Clinton in all regions of the country, among independents and in all age groups.

"At least for now, these numbers suggest Obama has the potential to build a stronger general election coalition than Clinton," Zogby said. "They also suggest Clinton has a lot of catching up to do."

McCain picked up 18 percent of the black vote in a match-up with Clinton but only 3 percent against Obama, a possible sign at least some black voters would not put aside their allegiance to Obama if Clinton won the nomination.

"There could be potentially disaffected Obama supporters who will vote for Obama but not Clinton," Zogby said.

In the Republican race, McCain led Huckabee by 47 percent to 32 percent, gaining 19 points in a month marked by a series of primary wins that gave him a commanding delegate lead in the race for the nomination.

Huckabee says he will stay in the Republican race until McCain wins the 1,191 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. His presence is a reminder of McCain's trouble with conservatives, who are unhappy with his stances on immigration and other issues.

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister whose rise has been fueled by support from religious conservatives, led 51 percent to 29 percent among those who described themselves as very conservative.

The other remaining Republican candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, drew 7 percent, with 8 percent unsure of their support.

The poll surveyed 494 likely Democratic primary voters and 434 likely Republican primary voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for Democrats and 4.8 percentage points for Republicans.

(Editing by Eric Beech)

(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)

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