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    "Hillary still ahead, but going looks good for Obama"

    New York, (PTI): Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton remains the favoured choice for her partymen though the number of Democrats who feel rival Barak Obama is the "strongest candidate" against Republicans has doubled after his surprise victory in Iowa, a new poll has found.

    Republican voters have sharply altered their views of the party's presidential candidates, with Senator John McCain, once widely written off, now viewed more favourably than any of his major competitors, according to the latest nationwide New York Times/CBS News Poll.

    The poll showed a more stable Democratic race. Among Democratic primary voters nationally, Clinton, who made a comepback in New Hampshiore after the Iowa loss, remains the favorite of 42 percent, compared with 27 percent backing Obama -- essentially unchanged since December. John Edwards remains in third place at 11 percent.

    But, the Times says, there were auspicious signs for Obama as the contest moves to the South, where blacks account for a large share of the Democratic primary electorate.

    About half of black Democratic primary voters -- 49 percent -- said they planned to vote for Obama, while 34 percent said they backed Clinton.

    Among white Democratic primary voters, 42 percent said they were supporting Clinton, while 24 percent said they backed Obama.

    But Clinton and Obama are now viewed by Democrats as almost equally qualified on a variety of measures, including the ability to serve as commander in chief, the poll shows.

    The findings underscored the extraordinary volatility in the Republican race and suggest that the party is continuing to search for a nominee whom it could rally around.

    Nearly three quarters of Republican primary voters said it was still too early for them to make up their minds "for sure".

    On the Democratic side, the percentage of Democrats who say Obama would be the strongest candidate against the Republicans has more than doubled in a month, to 35 percent from 14 percent in December.

    Clinton still has an edge on electability, a substantial advantage on experience -- the central selling point of her campaign -- and leads among Democrats nationally.

    Americans' priorities, the Times says, are also in flux early into the primary season.

    The survey found voters to be in their darkest mood about the economy in 18 years, by some measures. Nearly 62 per cent said they believed that the economy was getting worse, the highest percentage since the run-up to the recession in 1990.

    Seventy-five percent said they believed that the country has "seriously gotten off on the wrong track," also similar to levels in the early 1990s, when such discontent fueled the presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton.

    Worries about the economy, the paper says, now dominate the voters' agenda, even more so than the war in Iraq, which framed the early part of this campaign.

    Issues that have loomed large in the Republican debate --notably immigration, taxes and moral values -- pale by comparison, the poll shows.

    The poll's findings are based on a national telephone survey conducted Jan. 9-12 with 1,061 registered voters; it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

    The survey was begun one day after the primaries in New Hampshire, where McCain won, and amounted to a snapshot of a Republican contest that remains remarkably fluid after almost a year of campaigning.


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