By Robin Toner and Dalia Sussman

Feb 26, International Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON: In the past two months, Senator Barack Obama has built a commanding coalition among Democratic voters, with especially strong support among men, and is now viewed by most Democrats as the candidate best able to defeat Senator John McCain, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

After 40 Democratic primaries and caucuses, capped by a winning streak in 11 contests over the last two weeks, Obama has made substantial gains across most major demographic groups in the Democratic Party, including men and women, liberals and moderates, higher- and lower-income voters, and those with and without college degrees.

But there are signs of vulnerability for Obama in this national poll: While he has a strong lead among Democratic voters on his ability to unite and inspire the country, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is still viewed by more Democrats as better prepared for the job of president. And while he has made progress among women, he still faces a striking gender gap: Obama is backed by two-thirds of the Democratic men and 45 percent of the women. White women remain a Clinton stronghold.

When all voters are asked to look ahead to the general election, McCain, the likely Republican nominee, is seen as better prepared for the presidency, better able to handle an international crisis and more equipped to serve as commander in chief than either of the Democratic candidates.

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photo: Senator Barack Obama addresses supporters during a campaign stop in Cincinnati, Ohio on Monday (John Sommers II/Reuters)