THE AYERS ATTACKS AREN’T CONNECTING…. The McCain campaign’s smear of choice just isn’t working.

More challenges for John McCain: Likely voters overwhelmingly reject his effort to make an issue of Barack Obama’s association with 1960s radical William Ayers. Fallout continues from McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for vice president, with 52 percent saying it weakens their confidence in his judgment. And on optimism, it’s Obama by 2-1.

Skepticism about the Ayers issue was one of the factors cited by Colin Powell in his endorsement of Obama yesterday, and in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, likely voters broadly agree: 60 percent say Obama’s relationship with Ayers is not a legitimate issue in the presidential campaign; 37 percent say it is.

Given McCain’s standing in the polls, this means quite a few McCain supporters don’t even consider the Ayers “issue” legitimate.

What’s more, the same poll showed a variety of discouraging numbers for the Republican ticket. A 52% majority say that McCain’s choice of running mates makes them “less confident in the kind of decisions he’d make as president,” and that includes majorities of moderates (62%), young adults (59%) and women (56%). For Joe Biden, the numbers are reversed.

And while I tend to think the media’s interest in “optimism” is overstated, I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that Obama enjoys a huge edge — 62% to 30% — when respondents are asked with candidate is more optimistic. Similarly, Obama also enjoys a big lead – 54% to 37% — on which candidate has the better personality and temperament for office.

The numbers will surely not be welcome at McCain campaign headquarters (which, we learned over the weekend, are in a fake part of Virginia).

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.