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Presidential Prospects

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As fascinating as the 2006 midterm elections are for political aficionados, there is nothing like the 2008 presidential election to get their juices flowing. With strong personalities such as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain starting off as front-runners for their parties' nominations, there is little chance of apathy among voters.

A Cook Political Report/RT Strategies poll, conducted June 1-4 among 874 registered voters nationwide, serves as a useful benchmark of where the nomination battles stand. Among Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP, McCain led with 29 percent. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani landed in second place with 24 percent, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in third with 8 percent.

Rounding out the field were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia with 6 percent, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee with 5 percent, Gov. George Pataki of New York with 4 percent, and Sen. George Allen of Virginia and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado with 3 percent each. Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska got 1 percent each. It strikes me as extremely unlikely that the GOP will nominate someone who favors abortion rights and supported gay-rights and gun-control measures as New York's mayor. Therefore, it is doubtful that Giuliani will run. With Hizzoner out of the mix, McCain jumped to 37 percent, Romney came in second with 10 percent, Gingrich got 9 percent, Pataki climbed to 6 percent, Frist and Allen each had 5 percent, Tancredo still had 3 percent, and Brownback trailed with 2 percent.

A May 13 National Journal Insiders Poll of 103 members of the Republican establishment had 63 picking the senator from Arizona as the most likely nominee, 20 choosing Allen, and 10 opting for Romney. The results are quite different from those of the Cook/RT Strategies poll, though a survey at this point is heavily influenced by name recognition, while the Insiders Poll shows where the "smart money" is inclined to place a bet. It was also a marked shift from the December Insiders Poll that had Allen and McCain neck and neck with 39 and 38 votes, respectively, and Giuliani with 7.

One explanation is that Allen, as the most Bush-like candidate, has been badly hurt by the president's popularity plunge, while the nomination of maverick McCain was always more likely to be based on electability, or perhaps desperation, than on his being the first choice of conservatives and the party establishment.

McCain's chances have long appeared to be in direct proportion to the perceptions within the GOP that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee and that McCain would have the best chance of beating her. If a less polarizing Democrat were likely to win the nomination, say a Bayh, a Vilsack, or a Warner, McCain's stock might fall a bit.

On the other side, Clinton led among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the Cook/RT Strategies poll with 37 percent. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts held second place with 20 percent, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina landed in third with 12 percent.

In the second tier, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware ran fourth with 5 percent, and there was a three-way tie for third between retired Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas, Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, each with 3 percent.

Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana had 2 percent, and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, the latest to throw his hat toward the ring, had 1 percent. Clinton's strongholds were women (45 percent), nonwhites (50 percent), Northeast voters (51 percent), those with some college education (47 percent), and those ages 35 to 49 (44 percent).

In the NJ poll of 108 Democratic insiders, 73 picked Clinton as the most likely nominee, 10 picked Warner, and seven chose former Vice President Gore, who all but swore off the race last week.

When the front-runners were matched up in the poll, McCain led Clinton by 7 points, 47 percent to 40 percent. McCain carried Republicans by 86 percent to 6 percent; Clinton dominated Democrats 78 to 16 percent. McCain held an 11-point lead among independents, 45 to 34 percent, while Clinton edged him among women, 45 to 43 percent. The Republican prevailed among men by 19 points.

 
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