WASHINGTON—After a sometimes bitter primary campaign, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain now presents 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 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 the war a centerpiece of their campaigns. But in hypothetical matchups against either Democratic senator, about half of voters polled said McCain, a Vietnam veteran, was best able to deal with the war. Just over a third of voters polled favored the Democratic candidates on that issue.
Overall, McCain would beat Clinton 46% to 40% and Obama 44% to 42%. His lead over Obama is within the poll’s three-point margin of error.
Last night, Karl Rove offered two contradictory remarks/jokes that could explain how Democratic enthusiasm is now behind the eight ball. Rove said he was certain he could get either Clinton or Obama elected, but wouldn’t say how. “I only work for Democrats—and Joe Lieberman.” Lieberman is, of course, a friend and supporter of McCain; Rove is too, despite an icy introduction. But at another moment in his lecture, Rove joked that he secretly was advising both Clinton and Obama, explaining why they had turned so hard against each other.
Such a scenario would certainly bare what President Bush’s former chief strategist said has become known as “the mark of Rove.” “If you can’t explain,” he said, “Rove is responsible.”
Too much credence probably shouldn’t be put into this hypothesis.