After a month’s worth of mostly negative media reports, his campaign’s decision to decrease his activity in the early nominating states and the rise of GOP rival Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani’s national standing has plummeted in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, providing more evidence that the contest for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is wide open.
According to the poll, Giuliani — who has been the clear leader in all previous NBC/Journal surveys this year — is now tied nationally with Mitt Romney at 20 percent among Republican primary voters. They are followed by Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, at 17 percent; Arizona Sen. John McCain at 14 percent; and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson at 11 percent.
For Giuliani, it's a decline of 13 points since last month, when the former New York City mayor led the GOP field at 33 percent — followed by McCain at 16 percent, Thompson at 15 percent, Romney at 11 percent and Huckabee at 8 percent.
“I think there’s, at this point, no national (Republican) front-runner,” says GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “We have literally four or five candidates, all of whom has a chance to be the nominee.”
“The only thing we know is that the Republicans are in a total muddle,” Hart adds. “Can anybody win? Yeah.”
The poll comes after further media scrutiny over Giuliani’s record and personal life, as well as his campaign’s move to lessen its focus in the early nominating states, like Iowa and New Hampshire. It also comes after Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, gave a highly publicized speech on faith and after Huckabee vaulted into the lead in Iowa.
Other recent national surveys also show a tight national race among the Republican presidential candidates. A Reuters/Zogby poll has Giuliani at 23 percent, Huckabee at 22 percent, Romney at 16 percent, Thompson at 13 percent and McCain at 12 percent. And a new USA Today/Gallup poll has Giuliani at 27 percent, Huckabee at 16 percent, and McCain, Thompson and Romney tied at 14 percent each.
How far has Giuliani’s standing dropped? Just 37 percent view him favorably in this survey, compared with an equal 37 percent who have a negative impression of him. In March, a month after he filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, 58 percent viewed Giuliani favorably versus only 14 percent who saw him in a negative light.
“That’s a huge shift on Giuliani,” McInturff notes.
“He’s the old man in the sea,” Hart states more bluntly. “By the time he gets to Florida, there’s only going to be skeletal remains,” referring to Giuliani’s strategy of counting on larger states, like Florida (which holds its primary on Jan. 29) and California, New Jersey and New York (which go on Feb. 5), rather than the early states, like Iowa and New Hampshire.
While Giuliani has lost his national lead in the GOP field, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton — whose campaign also has received plenty of scrutiny as of late — has maintained hers, according to the poll. Forty-five percent of Democratic primary voters say they would vote for her, compared with 23 percent for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and 13 percent for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. No other Democratic candidate receives more than 4 percent.
Those numbers are virtually unchanged from November, when Clinton held an identical 22-point lead over Obama (47-25 percent), with Edwards in third (at 11 percent).
Other recent national surveys have somewhat similar results. In the USA Today/Gallup poll, Clinton has an 18-point lead over Obama (45-27 percent), and in Reuters/Zogby, it’s 8 points (40-32 percent).
“Hillary and Giuliani have been under the microscope big time these last two months,” Hart says. “Clearly, the examination has hurt Rudy much more than Clinton.”
Despite her national lead, the NBC/Journal survey underscores two potential concerns that some Democrats have about the former first lady’s candidacy: her relatively high negative numbers and her electability.
Forty-four percent of all respondents have a negative impression of Clinton, versus 42 percent who hold a positive view of her. By comparison, Obama has a 46-26 percent positive/negative rating, while Edwards’ is 38-31 percent.
On the campaign trail, Clinton has addressed the negative feelings that some voters may have about her, and she says those same feelings would transfer to whomever becomes the Democratic presidential nominee. "You know, there are people who would never vote for me. It breaks my heart, but that is true,” she said on Monday. “[But] anybody who’s been … a Democrat on the national scene as long as I have is going to end up with a lot of people who have been convinced that there is something that shouldn’t be liked or approved.”
In addition, Clinton leads two of the top GOP presidential candidates in hypothetical match-ups — but within the margin of error and by smaller margins than Obama does. Clinton bests Giuliani by 3 points (46-43 percent) and Huckabee by 2 points (46-44 percent).
Yet Obama leads those same two men by 9 points (49-40 percent) and 12 points (48-36 percent), respectively. The reason why Obama fares better in these match-ups, McIntuff says, is because of independents: They side with Obama but against Clinton.
The NBC/Journal poll was conducted of 1,008 adults Dec. 14-17, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. For the Democratic race the margin of error is 4.4 percentage points, while for the GOP contest it is 5.2 percentage points.
Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.
NBC/National Journal’s Athena Jones contributed to this article.