Huckabee has pulled into second place, close behind Giuliani, in the national survey of Republican-leaning voters. The results signal that Huckabee's candidacy is catching fire beyond Iowa -- where several recent polls have shown him with a slight lead or in a virtual dead heat with Mitt Romney, who long had led in the state where the nomination process officially starts.
FOR THE RECORD:
Poll graphic: A graphic accompanying a Times/Bloomberg poll in Wednesday's Section A showed incorrect results for one question. Asked, "Regardless of your choice for president, which Democratic candidate says what they believe rather than what voters want to hear?" The correct figures are Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton 34%, Sen. Barack Obama 27% and former Sen. John Edwards 19%. The percentages for Obama and Edwards were switched. —
In the Times/Bloomberg poll, Huckabee was preferred by 17% of likely GOP voters -- up from 7% in a similar October survey.
Support for Giuliani, the former New York mayor who once enjoyed a commanding lead in national polls, slid 9 percentage points over the last two months -- to 23%.
Support for other GOP candidates remained largely unchanged.
Analysis of the results and interviews with poll respondents show that Huckabee is drawing on conservatives and churchgoers who like his open embrace of religious values -- a powerful faction of the party that is skeptical about Giuliani because of his more liberal views on social issues.
Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, "is charismatic and very outspoken about his faith," said Julie Bricker, a student in College Station, Texas. "I agree with a lot of the points he makes [opposing] abortion and gay rights."
And as Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, prepares for a Thursday speech on religious values, an overwhelming majority of the GOP-leaning voters surveyed said their view of him was not influenced by his being Mormon. Thirteen percent said his religious affiliation would make them less likely to vote for him.
Among likely Democratic voters across the nation, the Times/Bloomberg poll found that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has maintained a solid lead, even as polls in Iowa show she remains locked in a tight three-way contest there with Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
Nationally, Clinton was favored by 45% of those polled; 21% chose Obama, and 11% were for Edwards.
Those figures represent slight increases for Obama and Edwards and a small drop for Clinton since the October survey. But all the changes fall within the poll's margin of error.
The Jan. 3 presidential caucuses in Iowa have the potential to transform the political dynamics and voter opinion nationally for candidates in both parties. But in the Democratic race, the new national survey underscores that despite the close contest in Iowa, Clinton retains a strong advantage elsewhere in the country.
The poll also illustrates the volatility and unsettled nature of the GOP field.
One measure of its instability: Among the Republican-leaning voters who backed a candidate, 47% said they might vote for someone else. That's down from 61% in October, but still more than the 37% of Democratic-leaning voters who said they might change their minds.
The survey, conducted under the supervision of Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, was based on interviews from Friday through Monday of 1,245 registered voters, including 529 who expect to support a Democrat and 428 who expect to support a Republican.
The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points for the Democratic sample and plus or minus 5 percentage points for the GOP group. For the entire group, the margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The poll found that candidates are facing an electorate that remains sour about the nation and President Bush. Only 24% think the country is going in the right direction; 35% approve of how Bush is handling his job.