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FOX News Poll: Clinton Retains Double-Digit Edge Over Obama Nationally

A FOX News poll released Thursday shows Hillary Clinton continues to have a significant lead over Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination, despite being seen as the main candidate practicing dirty politics. Democrats explicitly say Clinton has the right experience and is a strong leader, and twice as many say Clinton rather than Obama can bring about needed change.

The national telephone poll was conducted for FOX News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from Dec. 18 to 19. The poll has a 3-point error margin.

Clinton receives the backing of 49 percent of Democrats, up from 44 percent last month, and Obama is at 20 percent today, down from 23 percent. John Edwards comes in third at 10 percent. All other Democratic contenders receive the support of 3 percent or less, and 12 percent are undecided.

To put Clinton’s current 29-point edge in perspective, looking back at the past six months her lead over Obama has been as wide as 32 points (early October) and as narrow as just 13 points (in August).

Click here to view full results of the poll. (pdf)

Click here to see results for the race for the Republican nomination.

By 54 percent to 17 percent, Democrats are more likely to say Clinton is a "strong leader" over Obama, and she also gets the nod on having the "right experience" (67 percent to 8 percent). More than twice as many say Clinton can "bring about needed change," something Obama has been emphasizing for months and Clinton has more recently incorporated into her stump speech.

On the less positive characteristics, Democrats are much more likely to say Clinton "would do anything to win" compared with her competitors, and is almost three times as likely to be "practicing dirty politics during the campaign." A third of Democrats think none of their candidates are playing dirty.

Obama and Clinton are essentially tied on the candidate trait of "honest and trustworthy," and on being "authentic."

Overall, voters say that "strong leadership skills" are more important in a president than "strong moral character" by 10 percentage points, with another 32 percent unable to choose one over the other. Among Democrats, leadership tops moral character by 21 percentage points; among Republicans, moral character is seen as more important by 10 points.

Nearly half of Democrats think their party’s slate of presidential candidates pretty much all support the same positions on the issues, so candidate characteristics will clearly play a significant role in the race.

A 65 percent majority says Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama will make no difference to their vote, up from 54 percent in September. When it does factor in, it’s more likely to make voters less likely to support Obama than to encourage them to back him.

"After the initial flurry of excitement surrounding Oprah’s endorsement, it’s clear that the enhanced visibility she brought him is not really what Obama needed. He needed to convert that raw energy into hard votes. From the other results, it appears Clinton may have weathered Tropical Storm Oprah," stated Ernie Paicopolos, principal at Opinion Dynamics Corporation.

Among Democrats, 13 percent say Oprah’s endorsement makes them more likely to support Obama and 22 percent less likely (64 percent no difference).

Since the endorsement and her participation in several major campaign events, Oprah’s favorability rating has suffered. While she still receives a positive 55 percent, that’s down from a 68 percent favorable rating in September.

The poll shows the Iraq war and the economy are the most important issues voters will consider when deciding their vote for president, closely followed by health care. Democrats put Iraq and health care at the top of their list, while for Republicans the economy, Iraq and homeland security are the most important.

All in all, a majority (56 percent) thinks an economic recession poses a greater threat to the country today -- over twice as many as think a terrorist attack is the larger immediate threat (25 percent). Democrats (65 percent) are far more likely than Republicans (43 percent) to think a recession is the greater threat.

When asked about their personal financial situation, 41 percent of Americans say they are "getting ahead," while 45 percent are "just able to pay" their bills and 11 percent say they are "falling behind" financially.

Over half of Republicans say they are getting ahead; over half of Democrats say they have just enough money to pay their bills.

In a hypothetical match up with Republican John McCain, Clinton now trails 42 percent to McCain’s 47 percent. In November, Clinton had a 1-point edge and in October a 3-point advantage over McCain.

The number of Americans saying they think Clinton will be the next president has dropped from a large 44 percent minority in October to 33 percent today. The next highest is Obama at 13 percent, up from 6 percent and Republican Rudy Giuliani comes in third at 7 percent, down from 12 percent.

All in all, 40 percent of Americans say they would vote for Clinton as the first woman president next year, while about the same number would vote for a woman, but not for Clinton (36 percent). Another 12 percent say they are not ready to vote for a woman in 2008 and 7 percent would not vote for a woman president at all.

The findings are fairly similar when the focus is voting for Obama. Four in 10 (39 percent) say they would vote for him as the first black president, while 33 percent would support an African American in 2008, but not Obama. About one of five voters says they are either not ready to vote for a black candidate this time (14 percent) or would not vote for a black candidate at all (5 percent).

One of four voters says they would support Mitt Romney as the first Mormon president, yet almost a third (30 percent) would support a Mormon in 2008, but not Romney. Some (15 percent) are not ready to vote for a Mormon president, and about one in 10 voters definitively says they would not support a Mormon.

Are You Smarter Than a Former President?

In a recent interview, Bill Clinton was asked if he or his wife is smarter. He hedged and said they were smart in different ways. By 43 percent to 29 percent, Americans say Hillary is smarter, with another 22 percent saying no difference.

Both men and women think Hillary is smarter, though women (+ 24 points) are much more inclined than men (+ 4 points) to say so. Among Democrats, Hillary is seen as smarter (+ 26 points), while Republicans give a slight edge to her husband (+ 2 points).