Finally, a little data about how much the Jeremiah Wright scandal matters to voters. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken during Wright's revenge tour over the last week found that voters have "major concerns" about all three candidates, but John McCain and Hillary Clinton have them a little more concerned than Barack Obama -- and McCain's ties to Bush are hurting the Republican nominee more than Obama's relationship with Wright is hurting the Democratic front-runner. So far, Obama's "bitter" remarks are hurting him more than Wright is.
The poll of 1,006 voters found that 43 percent of registered voters have major concerns that McCain is too close to the Bush administration, 36 percent have major concerns that Clinton has changed her stance on issues like NAFTA and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, while 34 percent are bothered by Obama's "bitter" comments. Just behind, 32 percent said they were bothered by Obama's ties to Wright and former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers, and 27 percent were concerned about former President Clinton's role in his wife's administration.
On cable news today, analysts were making a big deal about the fact that while Democrats lead Republicans by 18 points in a generic presidential matchup (51-33 percent), Obama and Clinton are both essentially tied with McCain in head-to-head matchups, but I think the Democrats' problems are overstated. Once the party unites around a candidate, the vast majority of his or her backers will back the nominee. Until then there will be a little softness in either candidate's numbers against McCain.
It's not all good news for Obama: The percent of voters who said he "shared their values" dropped to 45 percent from 50 percent last month, and his score fell dramatically with small-town/rural voters (they went from a 46-43 percent edge to a 31-61 percent deficit), suburban voters (56-32 edge to 49-40 percent) and those 65 and older (52-37 edge to 36-47 deficit). Also, Obama's "bitter" comments took some time to show up in polls; the Wright effect could grow over time.
But as CNBC's John Harwood suggested on "Hardball" today, McCain might have to come out and publicly renounce Bush, the way Obama did Wright, to have any hope of winning come November. Let's hope the media starts paying as much attention to McCain's association with questionable political characters as it has to Obama's.