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Republican Nomination Most Open in Decades

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, left, with the weakest national support for a Republican front-runner this late in a presidential race since 1979. Trailing him, in order from right to left, are Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.).
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, left, with the weakest national support for a Republican front-runner this late in a presidential race since 1979. Trailing him, in order from right to left, are Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.). (By Phillippe Diederich -- Getty Images)

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By Jon Cohen and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 5, 2007

For the first time in nearly 30 years, there is no breakaway front-runner for the Republican nomination as the first votes of Campaign 2008 loom, and a new Washington Post-ABC News poll underscores how open the GOP race remains.

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Former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani maintains a double-digit lead over his main rivals, but most of his supporters back his candidacy only "somewhat," and he has yet to gain momentum among key primary voting groups or to distinguish himself as the best candidate for the party. Adding to the murkiness of the picture is that Republicans continue to be less satisfied with their candidate options than Democrats are with theirs.

In the new poll, a third of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would vote for Giuliani if their state's primary or caucus were held today. That puts him 14 percentage points ahead of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and 17 points ahead of former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.).

Eleven percent said they would vote for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and 9 percent support former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Not since 1979 has the leading Republican candidate had less than 40 percent support in national polls in the November heading into an election year. That year Ronald Reagan was the early poll leader, as Giuliani is today, and he went on to win the Republican nomination and the presidency.

This year's GOP race is notable also because the national poll leader does not lead in either of the first two states to hold contests next year. Romney leads in both Iowa and New Hampshire, according to state polls, with New Hampshire appearing exceedingly close.

More broadly, Republicans are closely divided on questions of who best represents the party's values and who is closest to them on the issues. Asked who best represents Republican "core values," poll respondents split among Giuliani (25 percent), McCain (24 percent), Thompson (19 percent) and Romney (17 percent).

Among white evangelical Protestants, Giuliani is competitive, but he runs only even with McCain and Thompson. Giuliani is at odds with the socially conservative wing of the GOP because of his support for abortion and gay rights.

Instead, Giuliani has sustained a year-long edge in national polls because of wide advantages on other key attributes. Republicans said by large margins that he is the strongest leader among the top candidates and has the best chance of defeating the Democratic nominee next year.

Giuliani also has significantly higher favorability ratings among Republicans than do any of the other top contenders. Seven in 10 have a positive impression of him, including a majority of white evangelical Protestants. Even so, his favorability ratings have dipped significantly among evangelicals and conservative Republicans since he announced his candidacy in February.

McCain weathered a series of personnel and financial setbacks over the summer, but he has rebounded from a campaign low of 12 percent a month ago to 19 percent today. Support for Thompson has changed little since he officially became a candidate two months ago. His 16 percent in the new poll is almost identical to where he was in July, when he was still in a testing-the-waters phase of his candidacy.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) leads the race for the Democratic nomination with 49 percent, followed by Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) at 26 percent. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) has 12 percent. Obama bounced back from a low of 20 percent in last month's Post-ABC News poll.


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