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White House poll positions

It is incredibly interesting to look at the vastly different trajectories for each party's 2008 presidential nominating contests, with a dozen Republicans in one contest and eight Democratic candidates in the other.  By Charlie Cook, National Journal.
/ Source: National Journal

It is incredibly interesting to look at the vastly different trajectories for each party's 2008 presidential nominating contests, with a dozen Republicans in one contest and eight Democratic candidates in the other. In four Cook Political Report/RT Strategies national polls taken over the last two months, two strong impressions emerge.

The first point that jumps out is that the Democratic contest is remarkably stable, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York maintaining a consistent 10- or 11-point lead over Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Obama, in turn, holds a steady 8- or 9-point edge over former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. And Edwards is a dozen or so points ahead of the candidate at the top of the second pack.

Over the four Democratic contest surveys, Clinton held 35 percent of the vote, Obama had 24 percent, Edwards had 15 percent, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had 3 percent and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden had 2 percent, with 1 percent or less for the others. The most recent sampling showed precisely the same, except that Biden had 3 percent and Richardson had 1 percent.

The four surveys were conducted April 27-29, May 11-13, June 15-17 and June 21-23. A total of 3,439 registered voters were interviewed, including 1,568 Democrats or independents who lean Democratic, and 1,382 Republicans or Republican-leaning independents.

The second strong message is that the Republican race is much more fluid. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani began the year with about 37 percent in Cook/RT polling, staying about 13 to 19 points ahead of Sen. John McCain of Arizona. But in the latest four-poll sequence, Giuliani holds a much narrower lead, 25 percent to 21 percent. The combined sample of Republicans and GOP leaners has a 2.6-point error margin. Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were running about even for third place, with 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Other candidates received 2 percent or less.

But in the most recent survey of the four, Giuliani (22 percent) and McCain (21 percent) were virtually even at the top, as were Thompson (14 percent) and Romney (12 percent) one level back.

(The poll results for both parties are based on questions that exclude potentially significant candidates who are not in the race and who, unlike Thompson, have not signaled a strong intention to run -- former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the Republican side and former Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000.)

Using the full four-poll sample, there was a 32-point gap on the Democratic side between the first- and fourth-place candidates, holding steady, while on the GOP side there was a 15-point gap between first and fourth, with first and second dropping and third and fourth rising. This essentially indicates a flattening in the GOP contest.

The stability and even spacing in the Democratic fight suggests it would take fairly dramatic developments to upset this steady order. The tightening up of the GOP nomination contest, however, with previous front-runners faltering and relatively newer or fresher faces rising, suggests that this is becoming a fight oriented more toward resources and momentum.
This puts pressure on the two early front-runners, Giuliani and McCain, to produce the resources to resurrect their earlier premier status, while Thompson and Romney have to show that they can keep up their upward momentum and produce the resources to continue to fuel it still higher.

In short, Giuliani and McCain have to play defense from a weaker position than before, while Thompson and Romney are on offense, needing to build on existing momentum.
The April and May Cook/RT polls did not test general election trial heats and the June surveys did not include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who might run as an independent, so the picture might be incomplete but is still interesting.

In the combined June surveys, which tested 1,699 registered voters with a 2.4-point error margin, Clinton and Giuliani were tied with 43 percent each in a head-to-head matchup. She had a narrow lead against Thompson, 44 percent to 41 percent, and led Romney by 46/38.
While Obama is not as well-known or defined as Clinton, he is also not as controversial. The Illinois senator tied Giuliani with 41 percent and led Romney and Thompson by 47/33 and 46/34, respectively. As Thompson and Romney get to be better-known among the broader electorate, presumably their general election numbers can be expected to improve some. This might also be true for Obama, who is better-defined than the two of them but not nearly as well-known or defined as Clinton, Giuliani or McCain.

Keeping this in mind, it is probably a safe assumption that the numbers for all of the major trial heats will come to look a lot like the tied Clinton vs. Giuliani and the Obama vs. Giuliani numbers. The unanswered question is whether Thompson or Romney can perform as well among independents as Giuliani does.