Barack Obama has won over more than half of Hillary Rodham Clinton's former supporters, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll that finds party loyalty trumping hard feelings less than three weeks after their bruising Democratic presidential contest ended.
The poll suggests time is beginning to heal some rifts from the primary campaign and that the New York senator's endorsement of Obama carried weight. The poll was taken in the days after Clinton suspended her campaign and said she was supporting her rival.
Obama's progress with Clinton supporters is marked, yet far from complete. More than one in five who had backed the New York senator now plan to support Republican John McCain in the fall, a boost for McCain if those opinions hold.
"We still have work to do," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters in a strategy briefing. "Democrats are consolidating behind the nominee as the choice in the election is more clear and as the contest fades. Time is our friend here."
Obama's outreach to Clinton supporters picks up this week. Clinton planned to introduce Obama to her financial backers Thursday night in Washington, and the two will campaign together for the first time Friday in New Hampshire.
"I want her campaigning as much as she can," Obama told reporters Wednesday. "She was a terrific campaigner. She, I think, inspired millions of people, and so she can be an extraordinarily effective surrogate for me and the values and ideals we share as Democrats."
The Obama campaign also has encouraged supporters to host "United for Change" house meetings with supporters of Clinton and other candidates on Saturday. The campaign says over 3,000 are being planned across all 50 states.
'Wasn't a difficult decision'
The AP-Yahoo News poll, conducted by Knowledge Networks, is part of an ongoing study that tracks the attitudes and opinions of a scientifically selected group of more than 2,000 Americans to see how their political views evolve over the course of the campaign.
The poll found 53 percent of the Democrats who favored Clinton for the nomination two months ago now back Obama for president. That's an improvement from April, when only 40 percent of Clinton supporters said they would back Obama over McCain.
"It wasn't a difficult decision — I was a lifelong Democrat," said 55-year-old Susan Gates of Massachusetts, a former Clinton backer now firmly in Obama's camp.
Gregory Scheetz, 56, of Barstow, Calif., said he wanted Clinton to win because of her experience, her intelligence and because it's time to have a woman in the White House. But he said he moved to Obama after Clinton endorsed him on June 7, even though he's a registered Republican.
"I feel that he can bring change," he said. "There's people in our country that I see need help. They're slow about getting it, and it just seems that Republicans are taking a different direction."
Twenty-three percent of Clinton's backers picked Republican John McCain over Obama. Of the rest, 16 percent were undecided, 5 percent were for independent candidate Ralph Nader and 3 percent said someone else.
The poll suggests the Clinton supporters are wary that he has enough experience to be president. Just 25 percent describe him as experienced, and that drops to 5 percent among those former Clinton backers who are not supporting Obama.
The poll responses also show Obama has more work to do to quell fears among voters like Kirstie Hartle of Rome, N.Y., a registered Democrat who has never supported a Republican presidential candidate. With Clinton out of the race, Hartle said, "I'm Republican all the way now."
She said she doesn't like Obama's name and thinks he has a questionable background. She also said she thought Obama was deceitful when he broke from his church after it hurt his campaign, and she doesn't trust him to handle the Iraq war.
"It sounds to me like a Middle Eastern type of name and whether or not he's born here in the United States, he doesn't seem like, to me, somebody who is trustworthy," Hartle said in a telephone interview. "You can't trust anybody these days, so who's to say he's not a terrorist and we just don't realize it yet?"
When asked an open-ended question about the first words that come to mind about Obama, some former Clinton supporters used words like Muslim or terrorist. Those misconceptions have been fueled by Internet rumors that point out his name is Barack Hussein Obama but otherwise lie about his background.
"I refuse to vote for an Arab to be in my White House," said retired salesman Dean Johnson of Lanett, Ala. "That is the only factor. Otherwise, you couldn't break both my legs and make me vote for a Republican."
The Obama campaign has been addressing the rumors with fliers distributed at churches, a fact-checking Web site and a television ad about his American roots. Obama is a Christian who was born and raised in the United States. His father was from Kenya, but left when Obama was a toddler and he was brought up by his American mother and grandparents in Hawaii.
Sixty-year-old Ann Burkes of Broken Arrow, Okla., said she has a "gut feeling" that she doesn't trust Obama and is leaning toward McCain because he is more experienced. But she said all that would change if Obama picked Clinton as a running mate.
"If he chose her, I would be back in a heartbeat," Burkes said.
Clinton for vice president?
The poll found that choosing Clinton as No. 2 would appear to be a wash for Obama's candidacy. Overall, 28 percent said they would be more likely to vote for the Democratic ticket if Clinton were the nominee, 25 percent said they would be more likely to vote for the Republican ticket if Clinton were the nominee, and 47 percent said it wouldn't make much difference.
It would help more among former Clinton Democrats, with 68 percent saying they would be more likely to vote for the ticket if Clinton were on it.
Former Clinton supporter Jeannie Azzopardi of Ashland, Ore., said she would love for Obama to pick Clinton but she doesn't expect him to and will support him either way.
"I seriously doubt that everyone who supported Hillary Clinton would vote for McCain," she said. McCain is "in direct, direct opposition to everything she stands for."
An analysis of Clinton supporters who are backing McCain shows they are more liberal than the Arizona senator on the issues. The majority favor removing troops from Iraq as soon as possible, a single-payer health care system funded by taxpayers and repeal of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.
The AP-Yahoo News survey of 1,759 adults had an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. Included were interviews with 844 Democrats, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.4 points, and 637 Republicans, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 points.
The poll was conducted over the Internet after pollsters initially contacted people using traditional telephone polling methods, following up with online interviews. People chosen for the study who had no Internet access were given it for free.