LOS ANGELES -- As Sen. Barack Obama shows increasing strength in the early presidential voting states -- making it more likely he will win the Democratic nomination despite trailing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in national polls -- their campaigns sparred Tuesday over who was better positioned to win a general election.
The backdrop to this debate is polling data that shows all the three top Democrats -- Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards -- are in a strong position to beat any of the Republicans running. Edwards' prospects against a GOP contender are the best, according to the latest CNN poll.
The Clinton and Obama campaigns held dueling phone conferences with surrogates making their respective cases on Tuesday, as Obama's brightening prospects in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are earning him closer scrutiny of his years in the Illinois state Senate and his subsequent runs for office.
The Obama campaign Tuesday disavowed a questionnaire he submitted to the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization in 1996 to support his state Senate candidacy.
"Obama never saw the '96 IVI-IPO state Senate questionnaire -- it was filled out by a staffer who unintentionally mischaracterized his views on a number of issues," said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt. LaBolt said the staffer was then-Obama state Senate campaign manager Carol Harwell, who could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Liberals running in Illinois in the 1990s, especially people like Obama, from the progressive enclave of Hyde Park and independent of Mayor Daley's machine or state Democratic boss Mike Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House, welcomed the endorsement of the IVI-IPO.
On Tuesday, an article by Mike Allen and Ben Smith on Politico.com, based on the 1996 IVI-IPO questionnaire that they obtained, they said, "from political sources opposed" to Obama's White House bid, "raises questions of whether Obama can be painted as too liberal and whether he is insufficiently consistent."
A poll of Democrats by the New York Times and CBS News published Tuesday concluded Clinton "is viewed by Democrats as a far more electable nominee" than Obama or Edwards.
During a conference call with reporters, Obama said polls asking about electability that include Republicans and independents were more important.
"Republicans and independents are more open to my message of change than they are to any other candidate out there, and that's what is going to be required in terms of bringing people together to get things done," Obama said.
Following on the Politico article, the Clinton campaign offered backers who raised questions about Obama's liberal roots during a press call. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), referring to Obama's strong anti-gun positions reflected in the 1996 IVI-IPO questionnaire, said she was baffled over how Obama could be "talking about banning all guns" and then "all of a sudden" alter that position.
Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), an Obama supporter, said "his crossover appeal is one of the greater strengths of his candidacy" and that he alone could help downticket Democrats.