Clinton, Giuliani Maintain Leads, But GOP Shows Signs of Shifting

By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York holds a solid lead over her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, while the contest for the Republican nomination appears even more unsettled than it did when it began five months ago, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Clinton's lead remains steady over her two principal challengers, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, and the poll contains troubling news for both. Obama's support has softened noticeably, highlighting the challenge he faces in turning high interest in his candidacy into votes. Edwards, meanwhile, has lost ground nationally over the past few months.

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani remains the leader in the GOP race, but the poll suggests that the surge in support he received after declaring his candidacy has stalled and that his backing of abortion rights and gay rights has caused more Republicans to turn away from him.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona runs second in the GOP race, but the poll results raise questions about his candidacy. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has spent millions on television ads already this year, has in some ways become an attractive alternative over the past few months, and former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee shows the potential to quickly make the GOP contest a four-way battle.

The poll provides a revealing snapshot of the 2008 presidential race as the candidates gather this week for a pair of debates in New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary next year. Tonight, eight Democrats will debate in Manchester, and 10 Republicans are scheduled to face off on Tuesday night. Thompson is not participating.

The debates are sponsored by CNN, WMUR-TV and the New Hampshire Union Leader. CNN will carry the debates live from 7 to 9 p.m.

A first-blush look at the Post-ABC News poll suggests no dramatic change in the two races, despite five months of intensive campaigning on both sides. But the findings underscore potential volatility on both sides as well as the obstacles facing many of the serious contenders.

In the Republican race, Giuliani leads the field with 34 percent, followed by McCain at 20 percent, Thompson at 13 percent and Romney at 10 percent. No other Republican receives more than 2 percent. Those results showed no significant change since the last poll in April.

In the poll, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were asked to weigh Giuliani, McCain and Romney against one another on a series of leadership, personal and electoral attributes. Thompson was left out of the comparison because he had not yet formed a presidential committee. He took that step Friday.

Giuliani's leadership qualities appeal to Republicans. A majority of Republicans said he is the strongest leader, the most inspiring, the person they would most trust to handle a crisis and the candidate with the best chance of winning a general election.

McCain had a narrow advantage as the candidate with the best experience to be president, while Giuliani was judged to best understand "the problems of people like you." Republicans in the survey were nearly equally likely to see McCain and Giuliani as the most honest and trustworthy.

In several of these measures, however, Giuliani slipped from a February poll that asked similar questions. His standing as the most inspiring candidate dropped 12 percentage points between then and the most recent poll, his support as the candidate who best understands people's problems dropped 11 points, and his standing as the strongest leader dropped eight percentage points.

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