WASHINGTON (AP) _ As Sen. Bob Dole moved closer to locking up the Republican nomination, three new national polls on Tuesday showed he faces an uphill battle to wrest the White House from President Clinton.

The ABC News-Washington Post, CBS News and Gallup polls showed that if the general election were held today, Clinton would defeat Dole handily.

Two of the polls showed Clinton with the upper hand among independents, and one raised questions about Dole's ability to express why he should be president.

Dole has faced a sometimes bruising primary season, which apparently has taken its toll on the Senate majority leader's ratings.

For example, last July an ABC News-Washington Post poll put him in a statistical dead heat with Clinton, with 49 percent favoring Clinton and 47 percent favoring Dole.

But the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll showed 56 percent favored Clinton while 39 percent would vote for Dole. The same poll showed 51 percent of independent voters favored Clinton, compared to 40 percent for Dole.

The ABC News-Washington Post telephone poll of 1,014 adults was conducted March 8-10 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Voters polled by CBS News also gave Clinton a 17-point victory over Dole, 56 percent to 39 percent. Among independent voters, the same poll found 56 percent favored Clinton while only 34 percent would vote for Dole.

CBS News polled 1,265 adults on March 10-11 and found that a majority of voters feel Dole has been unable to make clear why he wants to be president or express new ideas.

Fifty-five percent said Dole hasn't made clear what it is he hopes to accomplish as president while 34 percent said he had. And 54 percent said he doesn't have new ideas, while 34 percent said he does.

The margin of error for the CBS News poll was plus or minus three percentage points.

Dole fared slightly better in the Gallup poll of 979 adults taken on March 8-10, losing by 12 points in a match-up with Clinton. Fifty-four percent chose Clinton, 42 percent chose Dole. The margin of error for this portion of the poll was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

All three polls reported favorability ratings for Clinton of at least 54 percent, but the CBS news poll found only 25 percent gave Dole a favorable rating, 35 percent rated him unfavorably, and 40 percent said they were undecided or lacked information.