Donald Lambro

"What a difference a month makes, and it's only March. It's not looking bright for the Democrats," Zogby said.

"For Obama, it's his problems with the white vote, which we saw in Ohio, and problems with the Wright story. That's reflected in the national polls when a month ago Obama was leading McCain by six or seven points, and this month is down by six. That's a big swing," the veteran election pollster said.

"At the same time, Clinton was down five or six points last month, and by my polls, she's still down about the same. Both Democrats are experiencing a problem, at least for the moment, among independents, moderates and swing voters. It's pretty safe to say they can't win in November unless they get those groups back," he said.

Other independent polls where McCain was matched up against the two rivals painted a similarly gloomy picture for the Democrats and gave the Republicans some reason to be more optimistic about their chances in the general election.

McCain was leading Obama by 49 percent to 41 percent in the latest Rasmussen tracking poll, 47 percent to 44 percent in the Gallup Poll and 44 percent to 43 percent in the Fox News poll.

Clinton trailed McCain by 51 percent to 41 percent in the Rasmussen poll and by 48 percent to 45 percent in the Gallup survey, but led in the Fox News numbers 46 percent to 43 percent.

Particularly remarkable in McCain's early-spring lead: He was running ahead of Obama in key battleground states in Pennsylvania (by two points), Ohio (by seven points) and Florida (by nearly seven points), according the Real Clear Politics Web site that tracks all the polls.

McCain either led or was statistically tied with Clinton in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and had edged ahead of her by four points in a Democratic PPP poll in Florida.

So something else is influencing this election, apart from the weakening economy and Iraq. Swing voters, especially independents, are closely examining the two bickering Democratic candidates and don't like what they see.

McCain, for the time being, is running a steady-as-she-goes campaign, betting the economy is likely to turn upward in the last half of the year and that, in the end, the divided Democrats will defeat themselves.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.