December 20, 2007

Rudy Slips In Second National Poll

Rudy Giuliani has to take a little time off the campaign trail due to "flu-like symptoms," but they could be caused by a significant drop in his poll standing. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll confirms what Rasmussen reported earlier this week -- that Giuliani has lost his national lead in the Republican presidential primaries. The momentum shift casts grave doubts on Giuliani's big-state strategy and further confirms the unsettled nature of the GOP base:

Two weeks before the Iowa caucus, the race for president, while tightening among Democrats, is wide open on the Republican side, highlighting the unusual fluidity of the first campaign for the White House in over a half-century that doesn't include an incumbent president or vice president.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Rudy Giuliani has lost his national lead in the Republican field after a flurry of negative publicity about his personal and business activities, setting the stage for what could be the party's most competitive nomination fight in decades.

After holding a double-digit advantage over his nearest rivals just six weeks ago, the former New York City mayor now is tied nationally with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 20% among Republicans, just slightly ahead of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 17% and Arizona Sen. John McCain at 14%. Other polls show Mr. Giuliani's lead shrinking in Florida, one of the states he has built his strategy around.

With the poll's margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points, that puts Mr. Huckabee, who had only single-digit support in the previous poll in early November, within striking distance of the leaders. Mr. Romney's national support also has nearly doubled.

In part, this reflects the decreasing impact of Iraq on the election. In the beginning of the year, the buzzword for the Republicans was "competence", and the main focus for that was Iraq. The surge had not started, and the situation appeared to have spiraled out of control. George Bush had dismissed Donald Rumsfeld the day after the election, and Gates had not established himself on policy yet. Republicans wanted a tough candidate with a proven record of competence, and at the time seemed willing to compromise on almost everything else to get it.

Twelve months later, that deal appears dead. With Iraq heading in the right direction, and with Democrats in total disarray against a President who doesn't look much like a lame duck, Republicans have decided that policy matters after all. In fact, it matters so much that the debate over policy has morphed into a faction war over the past three months, and it has at times threatened to alienate key parts of the conservative coalition.

The GOP has welcomed and encouraged religious conservatives, fiscal conservatives, libertarian-leaning conservative, and foreign-policy hawks while trying to attract centrists and independents at election time. In the last three months, we have seen the party react sharply to the rise of an evangelical (Huckabee), a Mormon (Romney), a libertarian (Paul), and a foreign-policy hawk (McCain), as well as the centrist (Giuliani). While much of the intraparty debate has focused on issues, some of it has devolved into simple name-calling -- and that has members of those coalitions wondering whether they truly belong in the big tent at all.

It may be inevitable, as CapQ commenter Immolate notes in another thread. This is the first primary for Republicans in the last several decades without a clear choice for President, either from an incumbent, a sitting Vice President, or an obvious selection. It gives the GOP a chance to hash out the relationships between the various factions and determine the direction of the party for the future. Ronald Reagan's nomination was the last transformative primary, but his selection was never in doubt, and Reagan won by uniting the coalitions and avoiding this kind of internecine fight.

The WSJ includes an interesting graphic in its story, with some of the information one normally gets from the crosstabs. Giuliani does better with women, the middle-class (tied with Huckabee), and the young and thirty-somethings. Romney does best with the elderly, urban and suburban voters, professionals and retirees. Regionally, Huckabee's strength is mainly in the south, while Mitt and Rudy do almost equally well in the West and Rudy wins the Northeast. And John McCain has remained close enough to Huckabee nationally to be in an almost virtual tie for third place.


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