Chicago Sun-Times - Steve Neal
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Steve Neal

New poll shows Obama gaining among Dems in Senate race

August 18, 2003

BY STEVE NEAL SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

He could win it all. State Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago) is in a very strong position to win the 2004 Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

A growing number of Democratic and Republican officeholders regard Obama as the most likely winner of what is expected to be at least a four-way primary.

In a new poll conducted for Obama by the Boulder, Colo., firm of Harstad Strategic Research, the South Side legislator made a surprisingly strong showing.

The telephone survey of 806 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted in late July. It showed that 41 percent of Democratic voters are undecided.

Among voters having a preference, state Comptroller Dan Hynes led with 21 percent, Obama and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas tied at 14 percent, commodities millionaire Blair Hull with 6 percent, former Board of Education President Gery Chico with 3 percent, and health care executive Joyce Washington with 1 percent.

In the 12-county Chicago media market, which usually casts about three-fourths of the Democratic primary vote, Obama is favored by 20 percent, followed by Pappas with 19 percent and Hynes with 17 percent.

Obama appears to be consolidating his base in the African-American community. Despite being known to just 54 percent of black voters statewide, he holds a 32 percent to 3 percent lead over Washington.

As Obama becomes better known, it is probable that he will extend this lead. Washington is known to 38 percent of African Americans. Black leaders supporting Obama include the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, former Judge R. Eugene Pincham, Rep. Danny K. Davis and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Hynes and Pappas are known to two-thirds of the state's Democratic primary voters, while Obama is known to about a third of the state's primary voters. Hull and Chico have about the same level of name recognition as Obama, but are still in the second tier when voters are asked their preference.

Despite her run for lieutenant governor last year, Washington is known to only a fourth of statewide Democratic primary voters. Among black voters, she is running a distant fourth behind Obama, Pappas and Hynes.

What gives Obama hope is that he is the clear favorite of informed voters.

Among Democrats familiar with the three leading contenders, Obama is favored by 39 percent, followed by Hynes with 21 percent, and 13 percent for Pappas.

Obama also has the most intense support of the Democratic contenders. Among voters familiar with him, Obama enjoys a favorable rating of 10-1. Hynes and Pappas scored favorable ratings of about 5-1.

During the middle of the survey, respondents listened to positive profiles about each of the six major candidates. They were then presented with additional background about Obama. The survey did not include negatives or push questioning about Obama's rivals.

At the end of the survey, 46 percent of the poll's respondents said that they favored Obama, while 36 percent chose another candidate, and 19 percent were undecided.

Pollster Paul Harstad isn't predicting that Obama will receive that high a vote, but said the poll shows that ''he has broad appeal and a lot of room for growth.''

In a poll taken for another Democratic contender last spring by a different firm, Hynes was favored by 24 percent, followed by Pappas with 21 percent, Obama with 9 percent, Chico and Washington each with 5 percent and Hull with 1 percent.

What is most significant about the new poll is that Obama is gaining strength and Pappas remains competitive. Hull, who intends to spend $20 million, is making his first run for office and isn't troubled by the low poll ratings.

If the black community rallies behind Obama, he will be very difficult to stop in next year's primary. And if nominated, Obama would be the instant favorite over any Republican now in the field.





 
 












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