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Analysis: The Wright effect on presidential race

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  • New polling seems to give some hope to Sen. Hillary Clinton
  • John King: Fallout over Sen. Barack Obama's ex-pastor a source of Democratic angst
  • Pew Research Center: "Fewer Democrats ascribe positive qualities to Obama"
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By John King
CNN Chief National Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Politics is a business of numbers, and the numbers favor Sen. Barack Obama. But they are changing in ways that give Sen. Hillary Clinton some hope and have dramatically changed how Republicans look at the presidential election.

In a world of so many polls and findings within those polls, a few stand out:

• Six in 10 Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor, according to the latest CNN Opinion Research Corp. survey.

• Nearly four in 10 Americans (38 percent) have an unfavorable opinion of Obama in the latest CNN polling, up 10 percentage points from the beginning of the year.

• Half of Americans think a John McCain presidency would bring different policies than the Bush administration.

• And in a new Pew Research Center national survey, Clinton's lead among whites who didn't attend college has increased to 40 percentage points from 10 in March.

In his analysis of the Pew data, research director Andrew Kohut writes, "Fewer Democrats ascribe positive qualities to Obama than did so a month ago, with white working-class Democrats, in particular, expressing more skeptical views of the Illinois senator. Video Watch the latest on the Democratic race »

"Since late February, his unfavorable rating has risen six points among all Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. At the same time, Clinton's unfavorable rating among Democratic voters also has increased by seven points."

Translation: The Wright controversy is hurting Obama most but Clinton also, at the same moment McCain is burnishing his brand as a different kind of Republican.

The overall fundamentals still heavily favor Democrats, but the controversy over Wright is a source of significant Democratic angst. Video Watch Michelle Obama discuss the Wright controversy »

In the words of Republican pollster Whit Ayres: "Blue-collar white voters are this year's soccer moms."

Ayres said that in recent days, "we've been doing a lot of focus groups with blue-collar whites in swing states. They're open to voting for Hillary Clinton because they think they did better economically in the Clinton administration than they have in the current administration.

"But there's no way on God's green Earth they're going to vote for Barack Obama. They will vote for John McCain instead. So reaching out to those people we used to call Reagan Democrats is a very smart strategy for John McCain."

Now, Ayres is a Republican with a bias, and Obama has time to repair the damage should he emerge as the Democratic nominee.

But the remarks of many Democrats privately are not that far off from what Ayres says publicly about his findings from recent focus groups.

"Jeremiah Wright is not going away," Ayres said. "There are an awful lot of people, when you just ask, 'What do you think of when you think of Barack Obama?' who bring up Jeremiah Wright's name. They bring up the anti-Americanism. They wonder why it took him so long to separate himself from him. Jeremiah Wright is an albatross around Barack Obama's neck that he's going to have to carry all the way to the election."

Asked about his research, Ayres describes the recent groups as "blue-collar white voters. Democrats and Republicans. More Republican than Democrat but they cross party lines."

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If he is right about this next part, it would explain why many Republicans who began the year believing Clinton had high negatives, and that Obama's inspirational message of hope and change would be harder to beat, are suggesting that they would rather run against Obama because of the Electoral College map that dictates presidential campaign strategy.

Ayres said of white blue-collar voters, "They've picked up on a lot of this stuff. And they, they don't believe that Barack Obama has the same cultural outlook on the world and on America that they do. They know that, and they don't like it." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Barack ObamaJeremiah WrightHillary Clinton

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