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Looking Toward 2008

Although political observers are focused on this year's elections, the fight for the 2008 Democratic and Republican presidential nominations and the fortunes of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain, as well as that of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, are never far from their minds.

Those three outsized personalities are dominating early discussions of the first presidential campaign since 1928 to not feature a sitting president or vice president. (Harry Truman's vice president, Alban Barkley, made an unsuccessful -- and little-remembered -- bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952.)

According to a new Cook Political Report/RT Strategies poll, Clinton is the most popular of three well-known Democrats expected to seek the 2008 nomination. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaners, she drew 44 percent support. Former Sen. John Edwards, the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee, received 16 percent, while Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 standard-bearer, drew 14 percent.

The poll of 1,000 adults nationwide was conducted February 23-26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Clinton does best among women and African-Americans, getting 48 percent of the female vote, compared with 38 percent of the male vote. She received a whopping 65 percent of black support, which could make her a big favorite in Southern primaries.

The curiosity surrounding the New York senator's candidacy seems limitless, among friends and foes alike. In the Cook/RT survey, among Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, 47 percent thought that Clinton would be as electable as any other Democratic nominee. But 46 percent were concerned that she couldn't win a general election.

Thom Riehle, the Democratic partner in RT Strategies, said, "Democrats are hungry for a victory.... Clinton's success in winning the nomination will depend on reassuring Democratic primary voters, especially hard-core liberals, that her candidacy will not condemn them to four more long years in the wilderness."

In the poll's GOP trial heat, McCain and Giuliani tied with 30 percent, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 11 percent.

While Clinton must deal with electability questions, Giuliani has to figure out how to survive a GOP nomination process dominated by cultural conservatives. For Giuliani, the task will be quite a change from overwhelmingly Democratic New York City, where a Republican seeking office needs to take liberal social and cultural positions.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were read two descriptions of Giuliani: "He really cleaned up New York City as mayor and made it a safer place to live or visit, and then showed real courage as a leader after the attack on the World Trade Center," and "His views on some issues -- because he is pro-choice on abortion, and supports gun control and gay rights -- make it hard ... to support him for president."

Based on those statements, 50 percent said they would nominate Giuliani, while 43 percent would not. Among self-described conservatives, who tend to dominate GOP primaries and caucuses, 46 percent would choose Giuliani, while 48 percent would not. Clearly, how to view the ex-mayor is a very divisive question within the GOP.

Lance Tarrance, the Republican partner in RT Strategies, says, "On the strength of name recognition, Giuliani runs right alongside McCain, but when you put his foot to the fire on issues like abortion, gun control, and gay rights, a significant number of Republicans can't support him." Although many conservatives have serious reservations about McCain's ideology and party loyalty, the Arizona senator's problems pale in comparison with those Giuliani would face.

In a general election trial heat, McCain led Clinton by 10 points, 47 percent to 37 percent. He won 84 percent of Republicans, but she carried only 69 percent of Democrats.

No matter what turns this year's contests take, count on Clinton, McCain, and perhaps Giuliani to remain obsessions of the political world.

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