WASHINGTON — Democrats have an overwhelmingly favorable view of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but she would be soundly beaten if she ran for president against Republican Sen. John McCain now, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.
Underscoring the New York Democrat's potential vulnerability, the poll also found that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican little known to most voters, would give Clinton a run for her money.
Given a choice between McCain and Clinton, half of those surveyed said they would vote for the Arizona Republican, compared with 36% for the former first lady. In a matchup with Romney, the poll indicated Clinton would win by just 6 percentage points, 42% to 36%.
Those findings lend credence to some Democrats' fear that despite Clinton's strength within the party, she is too polarizing a figure to win the White House.
The poll reinforces the view that McCain, although mistrusted by some in the GOP and expected to face a spirited fight if he seeks the nomination, would be a strong general election candidate because of his appeal to independent voters. Half of the independents surveyed said they would back McCain; 32% supported Clinton, with the rest undecided or naming someone else.
Still, the survey spotlighted obstacles to McCain emerging as the GOP standard-bearer. A significant segment of Republicans who call themselves conservatives -- the base of the party -- have an unfavorable opinion of him.
In contrast, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani received highly favorable marks across the party's ideological spectrum. Giuliani has not taken as many steps toward a presidential candidacy as McCain and Romney have, and the poll did not measure how he would perform against Clinton.
Other poll results highlighted the anti-GOP mood that helped Democrats win control of the next Congress in November's midterm election: Among registered voters, 49% said they would like to see a Democrat win the White House in 2008, whereas 41% preferred a Republican.
The findings come at a crucial time in the formation of the 2008 presidential field, which is expected to be crowded because neither party has an heir apparent. Competition is underway for donors and key strategists, and virtually all of the likely candidates are building organizations in the states pivotal to the nomination process, such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
At the same time, most of the anticipated contenders have yet to make much of an impression on voters, the poll found. Even Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a charismatic African American who has gotten enormous attention since he began publicly musing about a presidential bid, remains obscure enough that 40% of the Democrats surveyed said they did not know enough about him to have an opinion on him.
A potential problem for Clinton, on the other hand, is that voters already know so much about her. Almost all of those polled had a strong opinion of her, and many doubted that she could draw enough swing voters to win a general election.
"I don't think anyone in the other party is going to vote for her," said Sean McCarthy, 32, a Democratic computer network manager in Los Angeles. "They have been practicing hating her for too long."
The poll indicated that Clinton's gender and Obama's race did not necessarily loom as big liabilities for them. Only 4% of registered voters said they would not vote for a woman for president; 3% said they would not vote for an African American.
Romney's religion -- he is a Mormon -- and McCain's age could be more problematic. Fourteen percent of registered voters polled said they would not vote for a Mormon, and the same number said they would not vote for someone who is 72 years old, which will be McCain's age by election day in 2008.
The poll of 1,489 adults -- including 1,342 registered voters -- was supervised by Times Polling Director Susan Pinkus. It was conducted Friday through Monday and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The sample included 473 registered Republicans, who were asked about potential GOP candidates; and 585 registered Democrats, who were asked about their party's hopefuls. The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points for Republicans and plus or minus 4 for Democrats.
Among Republicans, the two best-known and most popular potential candidates are Giuliani and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Both were viewed favorably by more than 80% of those polled.
Giuliani, renowned for his leadership role after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, surpassed the 80% favorable mark even among conservative Republicans polled -- in spite of his liberal record on issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control. He has formed a presidential exploratory committee; Rice has said she does not plan to run for president.
The view of McCain is more mixed among Republicans, with 65% of those polled viewing him favorably and 20% viewing him unfavorably.