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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.

Although Romney is not as well known nationally as many of the other leading candidates, he has made a poor first impression on the public. Fifty-four percent said they would definitely not vote for him; 7 percent said they definitely would back him.

The GOP race continues to show considerable volatility. Giuliani's rapid rise has been followed by what has clearly become a period of settling. Over the past two months, he has lost support among white evangelical Protestants, women, those over age 45 and veterans.

Among Republicans who call themselves socially conservative, Giuliani and McCain run about evenly (21 percent to 20 percent), but among the party's smaller socially moderate wing, Giuliani enjoyed a wide lead.

Eight years ago, McCain was highly popular with independent voters, but the latest survey showed Giuliani with a significant lead among Republican-leaning independents (36 percent to 14 percent). Among Republicans, 31 percent supported Giuliani and 25 percent preferred McCain.

Two questions in the new poll related to the news that Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, has had a recurrence of breast cancer and Thompson's revelation that he was diagnosed with lymphoma 2 1/2 years ago and that his cancer is in remission.

Nearly nine in 10 people said the fact that someone has been treated for cancer and the disease is in remission would not affect a decision to support or oppose a candidate.

Among Democrats, more than nine in 10 said Elizabeth Edwards's latest diagnosis would not affect their choice of a nominee. The couple's decision to continue Edwards's campaign for the nomination drew strong support: Three in four Democrats said that decision was the right thing to do.

The Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone April 12-15 among a random sample of 1,141 adults, including an oversample of African Americans, for a total of 206 black respondents. Results from the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. It is as high as seven points for subgroups.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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