WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's standing has been significantly damaged by the controversy over his former pastor, according to USA Today/Gallup poll published on Monday.
The poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Obama 51 percent to 44 percent nationally among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters, in contrast to a CBS News/New York Times survey released on Sunday that had Obama leading Clinton by 12 points.
Clinton and Obama face voting contests on Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana, the next steps in their battle for the Democratic presidential nomination to take on presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in the November election.
The USA Today/Gallup results were a sharp reversal from two weeks ago, before the latest controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, when Obama led Clinton by 10 percentage points. The Thursday-through-Saturday survey had a 5 percentage-point margin of error.
USA Today said the results showed the Wright controversy had raised questions for some voters about Obama's values, credibility and electability.
By contrast, the CBS News/New York Times poll released on Sunday showed the Illinois senator leading Clinton 50 percent to 38 percent among Democratic voters and said 60 percent approved of how Obama handled the furor over the Chicago minister's public comments.
That poll surveyed 671 adults, including 283 Democratic primary voters, last Thursday through Saturday.
Wright has angered many voters with repeated statements that the September 11 attacks were retribution for U.S. foreign policies and that the U.S. government had a hand in spreading AIDS to harm blacks. Obama has publicly severed ties with Wright.
Obama sought to put controversy behind him on Monday, the eve of Democratic Party showdowns against Clinton in Indiana and North Carolina.
"We've probably taken as many hits as anybody has in this presidential campaign. Senator Clinton has not. John McCain certainly has not, and yet I'm still here and competitive in both North Carolina and Indiana," Obama told CNN.
The USA Today poll said one-third of primary voters were less likely to vote for Obama because of his ties to Wright.
The results also showed the same portion less likely to vote for Clinton, a New York senator, because of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
About 38 percent of likely voters said they were less likely to vote for McCain, an Arizona senator, because of his ties to President George W. Bush.