LEXINGTON, kY. &MDASH; U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton enters the final week before Kentucky's May 20 Democratic presidential primary with a commanding 27 percentage point lead over U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a new poll shows.
But either Democratic candidate would trail the expected Republican nominee, John McCain, in the state by double digits if the November general election were held today, according to a companion survey of likely voters.
A poll of 500 likely Democratic voters, conducted for the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper and WKYT television, found Clinton leading Obama 58 percent to 31 percent, with 11 percent undecided.
The results reinforce the expectation that Obama will lose Kentucky, even as he seems on the verge of securing the Democratic nomination. They also put in doubt whether Kentucky will be a battleground state in the fall, despite its track record of backing the winning presidential candidate in each election since 1960.
McCain leads Obama by 25 percentage points and Clinton by 12.
"This is a tough state for a Democrat for president," said Del Ali, president of the firm Research 2000, which conducted the surveys. "If Obama's sitting down with (his chief strategist) David Axelrod going over the electoral map in the fall, Kentucky isn't part of the equation. I think with Hillary it could have been."
The telephone survey of 500 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted between May 7 and May 9 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. The poll of 600 likely general election voters has a 4-point error margin.
Obama's campaign has long downplayed expectations in Kentucky, as well as in neighboring West Virginia, where Democrats go to the polls Tuesday.
"Sen. Obama is certainly the underdog in Kentucky," said Obama campaign spokesman Clark Stevens. "President Clinton and Sen. Clinton have been campaigning here for two decades. And people in Kentucky are just now getting to know Sen. Obama."
Stevens said Obama's goal in these states is to personally deliver his message of change and to introduce himself to Kentuckians, which he will do at a Louisville rally Monday and at yet-to-be-announced stops Tuesday.
Ali said the poll was not all bad news for Obama.
"I actually think this polling shows an improvement for Obama," Ali said. "If we had polled prior to the (May 6) primary in Indiana and North Carolina, my guess is that Hillary would have been over 60 percent."
Clinton, meanwhile, is banking her survival in the race on big returns in Kentucky, as well as on Tuesday in West Virginia and Puerto Rico on June 1. The goal, Clinton strategists have said, is to overtake Obama in the national popular vote.
Depending on voter turnout May 20, a 27-point advantage in Kentucky could yield Clinton at least a 100,000 net gain in votes to cut into Obama's 710,000-vote lead.
But Clinton's campaign expects the race in Kentucky to get closer in the last week.
"That margin is going to be difficult to maintain. It is going to tighten because we are being outspent," said Clinton spokeswoman Jamie Radice. "Sen. Obama, in other states, typically outspends us 3-to-1 or 4-to-1."
Clinton dominated Obama among most demographic groups in the poll, supported by about 60 percent of men, women and white Democrats. Obama was the choice of 78 percent of blacks.
Read the full story at Kentucky.com.