WASHINGTON — New York Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Illinois Sen. Barack Obama among Missouri Democratic voters, and Arizona Sen. John McCain is ahead among Republicans, according to a new McClatchy-MSNBC poll.
Going into Tuesday's primary elections, Clinton leads Obama by 47 to 41 percent, with 10 percent of Missouri Democratic voters saying they're still undecided. McCain leads former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee by 37 to 27 percent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is third with 24 percent, and 11 percent of GOP voters remain undecided. The poll, by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
The poll suggests that the race remains fluid in Missouri, where voters have a long history of backing the winning candidate in presidential general elections. One in four voters said they might change their minds before voting.
A new series of McClatchy-MSNBC polls found McCain also leading in all four corners of the country heading into a coast-to-coast rush of primaries on Tuesday, and Clinton and Obama locked in a nationwide battle for delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
"For the Republicans, McCain is clearly the frontrunner. He's ahead in every state," said Brad Coker, the managing partner of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
In addition to holding the edge in Missouri, McCain led Romney and Huckabee in California in the West, Georgia in the South and New Jersey in the East - a regional cross-section of the 21 states voting Tuesday for the Republican nomination. Because many Republican contests are winner-take-all delegate bonanzas, the surveys suggest that McCain could emerge from Tuesday's vote with a commanding lead for the GOP nomination.
Clinton had the edge in three regional samplings - in Arizona and California in the West, Missouri in the Midwest, and New Jersey in the East. But Obama was close in most - and led in the Southern state of Georgia. That regional taste of the 22 Democratic contests on Tuesday suggests that Clinton and Obama are both likely to emerge with big blocs of delegates and their battle far from over. Even second-place finishers win delegates in Democratic primaries.
"For the Democrats, she's ahead everywhere except Georgia. But the leads aren't so big that it's a slam dunk," said Coker.
The McClatchy-MSNBC poll found that Clinton's lead in Missouri is the result of stronger backing from women, who gave her a 51 to 41 percent edge. Men were more likely to support Obama, by a 47 to 37 percent margin. Clinton fared better among voters who were at least 50 years old, while Obama had an advantage of more than 2 to 1 among black voters.
Jerry Perrine, 64, of Independence, said he likes both Clinton and Obama, and that it was hard for him to decide between the two candidates. But he said he'd vote for Clinton because she has more experience. "I just like her because she's been there before," said Perrine, a school custodian. "She knows what it's about, and I think she'll make a difference. And she's honest."
Marjorie Fields, 78, of El Dorado Springs, said she'd vote for McCain because she likes his common-sense approach to government and his patriotism.
"I like the fact that he has worked to try to eliminate waste in government," said Fields, a retired factory worker and homemaker. "And he has suffered a lot for our nation by being a prisoner of war. My husband was in World War II."
The poll found that Clinton had an overwhelming 84 to 8 percent advantage over Obama among Missouri voters who cited experience as the quality they're most looking for in a president. Voters who said they were most interested in change in Washington gave the edge to Obama, 59 to 34 percent. Voters who said the Iraq war was the most important issue backed Obama, 51 to 35 percent, while Clinton led Obama by large margins among voters who said the economy and health care were the biggest issues.
Clinton showed particular muscle in rural regions of the state, where she led Obama by 55 to 34 percent. She had a five-point lead in the Kansas City region, while Obama had a 10-point lead in the St. Louis region.
"She's going to kill him in rural Missouri," said Coker. "There are just not enough blacks there to carry him."
On the Republican side, Huckabee promises to be a factor in the race. He served as the governor of a state that's geographically and politically similar to Missouri, and he received nearly as much support as McCain in the southwest part of the state. Huckabee had a one-point lead over McCain among voters who described themselves as born-again Christians.
But McCain showed strength among all other demographic groups, leading among men, women, young voters, old voters, urban voters and rural voters. In the Kansas City region, he led Romney by 48 to 23 percent, while he had a one-point margin over Romney in the St. Louis region.
Coker said that, "Missouri looks pretty good" for McCain because Huckabee's support in the state will hurt Romney.
Republican voters who said that leadership was the most important quality for a president backed McCain over Romney by a 59 to 17 percent margin. Voters who said the values of a candidate mattered most backed Huckabee over McCain by a 46 to 24 percent margin.
On the issues, McCain led among voters who cited terrorism, the economy and taxes as their main concerns. Romney had a 2 to 1 edge over McCain among voters who were most concerned with immigration. The poll's error margin was plus or minus 5 percentage points.
HOW WE POLL
The McClatchy-MSNBC Poll is a snapshot of voter opinion at the time it was conducted. It is not a prediction of how people will vote on Election Day.
The Mason-Dixon poll of 400 likely Democratic primary voters each in Arizona, California, Georgia, Missouri and New Jersey - and 400 likely Republican primary voters each in California, Georgia, Missouri and New Jersey - was conducted by telephone Jan. 30-Feb. 1.
Those interviewed were selected by a random variation of telephone numbers from a cross section of telephone exchanges. That means anyone in the state with a phone line had the same odds of being called as anyone else, except for people who use cell phones only. Cell phone numbers are not in the exchanges.
The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points. That means that 95 percent of the time, the correct numbers could be up to 5 percentage points above our poll's percentage point findings, or up to 5 percentage points below them. The other 5 percent of the time, the correct numbers could vary even more.
The sampling margin of error does not include other variables that could affect results, including the way questions are worded or the order in which they're asked.
Steven Thomma of McClatchy Newspapers contributed. To reach Rob, call 202-383-0009 or send e-mail to: rhotakainen(at)mcclatchydc.com.