Giuliani's Lead Shrinks, Clinton's Margin Holds

By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's lead over his Republican presidential rivals has narrowed considerably, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) has maintained her advantage in the race for the Democratic nomination, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), whose candidacy has been buffeted by lackluster fundraising and his embrace of President Bush's troop surge policy in Iraq, runs a solid second among GOP hopefuls. But there is fresh evidence in the new survey that his focus on the war and on attracting conservative support have made him more polarizing as a potential general-election candidate.

Giuliani remained the front-runner in the national poll, but his support has eroded. In a late-February Post-ABC News poll, 44 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents preferred Giuliani for the nomination; that figure is down to 33 percent. Support for McCain held steady at 21 percent.

Giuliani's support dipped in part because of the possible entry of former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.) into the GOP race. Thompson ran third in this poll, with 9 percent, tying him with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who has said he will decide this fall whether he will run, was fifth at 6 percent, down from 15 percent in February. No other Republican candidate received more than 2 percent in the current poll.

Among Democrats, Clinton led in the survey with 37 percent support, to 20 percent for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Former vice president Al Gore, who has said he has no plans to run, had the support of 17 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents; former senator John Edwards (N.C.) stood at 14 percent. No other Democrat received more than 3 percent.

In late February, Clinton led with 36 percent to Obama's 24 percent. Since then, Obama has not maintained the momentum he had shown in attracting black support. In the new poll, 43 percent of blacks preferred Clinton for the Democratic nomination and 34 percent preferred Obama.

Democrats remained far more satisfied with their field of candidates than did Republicans. Fully 80 percent of Democrats said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their choices; 65 percent of Republicans were satisfied with GOP candidates. Republican unrest has only increased in the past two months, providing a push to Thompson's possible candidacy.

Beyond the primaries, the survey paints the portrait of an electorate still evenly and deeply divided. Four of the six major candidates -- McCain, Clinton, Giuliani and Romney -- are considered unacceptable by at least 40 percent of all Americans.

Clinton long has been a polarizing figure, and the latest survey found that 45 percent of Americans -- and 51 percent of independents -- said they would not support her in November 2008 if she were to become the Democratic nominee.

McCain, by contrast, has become significantly less acceptable as a general-election candidate. A year ago, 28 percent of Americans said they "definitely would not vote" for him if he were to become the Republican nominee; in this poll, that number soared to 47 percent.

Since last May, McCain has shored up some GOP support, but he lost a significant amount of his crossover appeal: The percentage of independents saying they definitely would not vote for him jumped from 25 percent to 41 percent in the current survey.

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