By Dan Balz and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Rudolph W. Giuliani leads the race for the GOP presidential nomination, with Republican voters describing him as the field's strongest leader and most electable candidate in the 2008 general election, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
But the Republican contest remains unsettled just three months before the first votes will be cast, and in comparison with fellow New York politician Hillary Rodham Clinton, Giuliani is a far less solid front-runner. He has double the support of his nearest rival, but a majority of those who support him do so only "somewhat." At the same time, his advantages on key attributes are smaller today than they were earlier in the campaign, reflecting continued uncertainty among Republicans about their choices in the presidential race.
The poll also marked an interruption in what had been a slow but steady rise in support for Fred D. Thompson. The former senator from Tennessee nearly doubled his support from April to early September as he prepared to enter the race, but he has not picked up additional backing since.
Giuliani topped the Republican field with 34 percent, with Thompson at 17 percent and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) at 12 percent in the new poll. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was in fourth with 11 percent but has continued to make strong showings in polls testing the crucial early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee took 8 percent, his best showing in a Post-ABC poll. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) had 3 percent; Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), 2 percent; and Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), 1 percent.
McCain has slipped somewhat over the past month, dipping to his lowest level of the year. Early last month, Giuliani led with 28 percent and McCain trailed with 18 percent; Thompson was at 19 percent. But other findings in the new poll showed McCain holding up well against the other candidates, despite the severe turbulence his campaign experienced over the summer.
In perhaps the clearest sign of why the race remains muddled, there was no consensus as to which candidate best reflects the party's core values. McCain scored 26 percent on this question, even though he has parted with the party's base on immigration and campaign finance revisions. Giuliani registered at 23 percent and Thompson 21 percent. Romney was cited by 13 percent.
Giuliani's lead in the GOP race is tightly wrapped with views of his performance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly all Republicans said he did a "good" or "excellent" job responding to the attacks, with a majority calling his performance excellent. Most also said they believe his performance is a good indicator of what kind of president he would be.
Among those who believe he excelled after the attacks, and among those who say those skills translate easily to the presidency, Giuliani holds a lead of more than 30 percentage points over his rivals.
Half of those surveyed named Giuliani as the most electable Republican in the field, a slight dip from where he was in earlier polls. More significant perhaps is that no other GOP candidate comes close on an issue of vital important to a demoralized party worried about the elections. In February, for example, 55 percent cited Giuliani as the most electable but 34 percent named McCain. In the new poll, 15 percent named McCain and 13 percent cited Thompson as the party's best hope for holding the White House.
Forty-seven percent called Giuliani the strongest leader, compared with 20 percent for McCain. He also led on the question of which Republican would be most likely to reduce partisanship in Washington. Before Thompson officially entered the race last month, an even bigger percentage saw Giuliani as the field's strongest leader.
But in contrast with Clinton, who clearly topped her main rivals on all the major attributes considered in the survey, Giuliani was not an across-the-board winner among the Republicans. For example, he and McCain were deadlocked at 26 percent each on which candidate was the most honest and trustworthy.
Giuliani's advantage was more evident on the question of whom Republicans trust to deal with a series of issues. By varying margins, the former mayor led on terrorism, the economy, health care and immigration. On handling Iraq, 37 percent trust Giuliani most; 31 percent put more faith in McCain.
More curious was that Giuliani led on whom Republicans trust to handle social issues. Despite his support for abortion rights and gay rights, 41 percent of those surveyed cited Giuliani as the one they trust, with Thompson a distant second at 18 percent. There was no clear explanation for that finding, given a previous Post-ABC News poll that showed concern among many Republicans about Giuliani's positions on those issues. But the poll did not specify which "social issues" respondents should consider.
Republicans continue to prize strength and experience over new ideas and a new direction, and Giuliani is the clear favorite of that part of the party.
The latest poll came during a month in which Giuliani raised his profile nationally and internationally. He sharply criticized Clinton and the liberal group MoveOn.org after MoveOn attacked Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, as "General Betray Us." The exchange was one way for Giuliani to signal to Republicans that he is prepared and even eager to take on Clinton, if the two end up as their party's nominees next year.
The latest poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 27-30 among a random national sample of 1,114 adults, which included interviews with 398 self-identified Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. The margin of sampling error for the Republican sample is plus or minus five percentage points.
Polling director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.