BUOYED by a widespread disdain for President Bush and concern about the economy, Democrat Barack Obama holds a lead over Republican John McCain in the latest

Daily News

/Franklin & Marshall Poll.

Obama leads McCain by eight points, 44 percent to 36 percent among registered voters, and by five points, 46 percent to 41 percent, among likely voters.

Poll director Terry Madonna said that the survey shows that Obama hasn't been able to pull away despite signs it should be a big Democratic year in Pennsylvania.

"He's on third base, but so far he can't seem to find a way to get home," Madonna said. "Look at the underlying trends. The economy is a huge issue. Bush's ratings are terrible. But too many voters are concerned about Obama's experience, and don't yet have enough confidence in his ability to lead."

When asked whether, regardless of how they plan to vote in November, they would be concerned if Obama were elected president, 51 percent said yes.

When those voters were asked what concern they have, 39 percent cited a lack of experience, knowledge or ability. Thirty percent cited Obama's views on policy issues and 12 percent cited the idea that he tries to please everyone.

Madonna said that it's possible that some of the reluctance to accept Obama may reflect unstated racial prejudice. "That's a big question mark," Madonna said. "No one's figured out how race affects this election, but you cannot rule out race as a problem for some voters."

The poll showed McCain leading among white voters 41 percent to 39 percent, and Obama leading among nonwhite voters 83 percent to 2 percent.

Voters cited the economy as their top concern, about one in six said they'd experienced a reduction in pay (17 percent) or had been without health coverage (16 percent) during the year.

But when asked which candidate would best protect the United States against terrorism, voters chose McCain over Obama by a 53-to-29-percent margin. When asked who has the experience needed to be president, McCain was a 60 to 22 percent winner.

"Obama's hurdles with voters are questions about his experience, some policy differences and the feeling among some that he may be too liberal," Madonna said. "The story of this fall campaign will be whether voters can get comfortable enough with him to trust him to lead the nation. It really is about Barack Obama."

Obama got mixed results among Democratic constituencies that supported Sen. Hillary Clinton and might have resented his comment during the Democratic primary that some rural working-class voters are "bitter."

Obama ran strongest among young voters and those with college degrees. But he was also a big winner among union households, and seemed to hold his own in central Pennsylvania.

For the entire poll, go to http:// go.philly.com/keystonepoll. *