By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
With many Republicans increasingly pessimistic about holding on to the White House in 2008, electability has become former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's most appealing attribute.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll of the GOP field shows Giuliani with a sizable lead over his three principal rivals. The former mayor was the choice of 37 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, well ahead of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.). McCain and Thompson, who has not officially declared his candidacy, are virtually tied at 16 and 15 percent, respectively. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came in fourth, with 8 percent.
Giuliani's front-runner status is fueled by a broad-based perception that he is the most electable GOP candidate.
Nearly half of the Republicans polled said that Giuliani represents their party's best chance to win in November 2008; that is three or four times as high as the percentage who mentioned other candidates. Democrats and independents also said Giuliani would represent the Republicans' best shot at holding on to the White House.
But he has to get the nomination first.
Support for Giuliani is not deep -- only a third of his supporters said they are strongly behind his candidacy. That stands in contrast to the top two Democrats in the race for their party's nomination. Nearly seven in 10 of those who support Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) said they strongly back her run, as did 56 percent of those who support Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).
And some Republican strategists argue that Giuliani would be a poor fit to lead a party in which social and religious conservatives hold considerable sway over policy and candidate selection.
About a third in the poll said they regard Giuliani's views on social issues as too liberal -- including 42 percent of conservatives and 51 percent of white evangelicals. Overall, 54 percent said Giuliani's views on issues are "about right."
A quarter said they found McCain's views on social issues more liberal than they would like, so Giuliani is not the only candidate with potential problems among part of the GOP base.
Despite lingering concerns about Giuliani's candidacy, he has led the Republican field throughout the year. His overall support dropped significantly after Thompson emerged as a candidate-in-waiting, but Giuliani has remained the front-runner in national polls throughout the early months of the campaign.
At 16 percent, McCain is at his lowest point of the race after a month in which he reported that his coffers were nearly out of money and his campaign manager, chief strategist, finance director and communications director -- among others -- announced their resignations.
But McCain has vowed to stay in the race. If he were to drop out, however, Giuliani would be the likely beneficiary, according to the new poll.
Thompson, meanwhile, continues to be competitive as an unannounced candidate. And Romney's national numbers continue to lag despite his having moved to the top of the field in some Iowa and New Hampshire polls.
Giuliani leads among both men and women, but his lead is significantly wider among women. Forty-one percent of women backed his candidacy, compared with 32 percent of men.
And in contrast to Democrats, who by a small margin said freshness and new direction are more important in their assessment of candidates than strength and experience, two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that their priority is strong leadership.
That is another asset for Giuliani, who has sought to highlight his aggressive approach to dealing with terrorism and his experience leading the nation's most populous city.
Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.