White men, conservatives, evangelicals and other pivotal building blocs of the Republican Party are divided among its leading contenders for president, leaving the race for the party's nomination highly fluid, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll.
Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson are each attracting significant support from core Republican groups, based on the poll conducted this week. Even Sen. John McCain, whose campaign has been staggered by money problems and staff shake-ups, is backed by solid shares of suburban, college-educated and Midwestern Republican voters.
The roughly one-third of Republicans in the poll who said they disapprove of the job President George W. Bush is doing were gravitating around all three of those hopefuls. Overall, the survey underscores that no contender has yet to convincingly make the case that he is the candidate for change that so many voters want as the party searches for its identity and a successor to Bush.
"I like Rudy's stand on the war on terror, and I also like his leadership qualities and I don't just mean 9/11," said August Olivier, 61, a conservative Giuliani backer and retired automobile executive from Rochester, Michigan. But he said he also liked Thompson and might change his mind, adding: "I'm not against him. We've got time."
The poll showed the contest remains a virtual tie between Giuliani, the former New York mayor, at 24 percent and Thompson, the actor and former senator from Tennessee, at 19 percent. Not far behind at 15 percent is McCain, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has 7 percent.
Little change since July
The numbers showed virtually no change since the last AP-Ipsos survey in July.
Lisa Baudoin, 40, a student and homemaker in Sugarland, Texas, said she is a conservative and supporting Thompson because of his views on abortion and immigration. She said she does not like Giuliani's more moderate immigration stance or his three marriages, and does not like McCain's opposition to the U.S. torturing terrorism suspects.
"How are you going to get information? They don't play nice. Why do we have to if no one else is," she said.
Further highlighting how up for grabs the Republican race is, fully 22 percent of Republicans did not back a candidate. And when the handful of Republican voters backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has not said he is running, are distributed to their second choices, they divide about evenly among Giuliani, Thompson and McCain.
"People haven't coalesced around a particular candidate, or even one or two candidates, which is why this race is so wide open and why the winner will be determined by events that haven't happened yet," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster unaffiliated with any candidate.
Clinton holds clear lead among Dems
In contrast, among the Democrats, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has a clear, across-the-board lead in her party's race over Sen. Barack Obama by 34 percent to 20 percent, roughly the margin she has enjoyed for months. Lagging behind was former Sen. John Edwards at 10 percent, while another 12 percent had no preference.
Clinton's lead stretched even more when Democrats supporting former Vice President Al Gore, who has not said he will run, are divided among their second choices. Then, she is ahead of Obama by 43 percent to 23 percent, with Edwards at 13 percent.
The Democrats and Republicans will choose their tickets in separate conventions next year in August and September, respectively. The general election is in November 2008.
This year's national polls have varied from some surveys in the important early-voting states in the parties' nominating contests.
Several polls show Romney ahead in New Hampshire and Iowa and a jumbled Republican race in South Carolina. Meanwhile, Clinton leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but the three top Democrats have been more evenly matched in Iowa. Early voting states have more influence because poor results may sway some candidates to drop out of the race.
Among Republican voters in the national AP-Ipsos poll, Giuliani and Thompson each had about a quarter of those over 50, white males and married men. They also each had about one-fifth of conservatives, Southerners and evangelicals.
Giuliani and McCain each had about one-fifth of white Republican women, and the top three candidates each had roughly equal shares of college-educated Republicans, Midwesterners, suburbanites and married women.
"He's gotten a good announcement, a good launch, a great reception on the campaign trail," John McLaughlin, Thompson's pollster, said of the former senator, who formally announced his candidacy last week.
Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella cited his leads in recent national polling and said, "It couldn't be more clear that Rudy's record of results, proven executive experience and grasp of the issues has real staying power."
The poll was conducted from Sept. 10-12 and involved telephone interviews with 1,000 adults. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The survey included interviews with 482 Democrats, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. For the 358 Republicans surveyed, the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.