Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Poll Shows No Republican Frontrunner

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows a dead heat between Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney in the race for the GOP presidential nomination:

Rudy Giuliani has lost his national lead in the Republican presidential race, creating the party's most competitive nomination fight in decades just two weeks before voting starts.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows the former New York City mayor now tied nationally with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 20% among Republicans nationally, just slightly ahead of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 17% and Arizona Sen. John McCain at 14%. At a time when Mr. Romney has fallen behind Mr. Huckabee in the leadoff state of Iowa, the result signals a dramatic shift in the nature of the Republican contest: In a party with a history of rewarding established front-runners, there's no longer a front-runner of any kind.

In part, this reflects the extraordinary openness of the first White House race in 80 years without an incumbent president or vice president seeking the office in either party. Though the survey shows Sen. Hillary Clinton maintaining a 22 percentage point national lead over Sen. Barack Obama, she too faces a stiff challenge in Iowa and other early states from Mr. Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

In Mr. Giuliani's case, his fall from a high of 38% of the Republican vote earlier this year appears to stem largely from unfavorable publicity surrounding his personal life, his security business and his relationship with controversial figures such as one-time police commissioner Bernard Kerik. Just 35% of Republican voters rate Mr. Giuliani highly on having "high personal standards that set the proper moral tone for the country."

By contrast, 65% rate Mr. McCain highly on that score, 60% for Mr. Romney, and 53% for Mr. Huckabee. At the same time, fewer than half of Republican voters say that Mr. Giuliani, a moderate who favors abortion rights, or Mr. Huckabee, a conservative Christian with a populist tilt, or Mr. McCain, an ex-prisoner of war who has staunchly backed the Iraq war, "shares your position on the issues."

A fifth candidate, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, also draws double-digit support at 11% after shooting up to second-place support in the Republican field earlier this year. The fluidity in the race has scrambled calculations for the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary, and the Jan. 19 contest in South Carolina -- all of them historically important in shaping the nomination outcome. Aside from fluctuations in the candidates' personal images, the issue agenda is shifting as well amid rising concerns about an economic downturn.
I just wrote about the increasing salience of the economy among voters. But what interests me here is how well John McCain does on moral standards (as readers know well by now, I'm pulling for McCain). Unfortunately, the ethics issue's not a driving factor for most voters, but it could combine with other important factors - like concern on Iraq - to lift McCain a bit over the next couple of weeks.

As the article notes, the GOP race is extraordinarily open, and fun to watch as well!