Republicans antsy for a conservative standard-bearer in the presidential race have begun to rally behind Fred Thompson, propelling the former Tennessee senator to within hailing distance of the lead for the party’s nomination, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani holds first place in the survey, with support from 27% of the Republicans and independents who said they plan to vote in the party’s 2008 primaries.
But Thompson, an actor who played a prosecutor on NBC’s “Law & Order,” runs just behind, with 21%. Indications are he will join the race within the next month.
The two other major GOP contenders, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, fall well short of the leaders and are in a battle for third place. McCain was backed by 12% of those polled, Romney by 10%. The rest of the crowded field is mired in single digits.
Among the Democratic candidates, the race remains little changed from a Times/Bloomberg poll in April.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton maintains a solid lead at 33%, followed by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama at 22%. Running third, with 15%, is former Vice President Al Gore, who continues to say he has no plans to seek the office he barely lost in 2000. Fourth is former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at 8%.
Despite Clinton’s lead, Obama is the strongest Democrat in hypothetical match-ups with Republicans in the general election, running even or well ahead of the GOP’s top contenders.
Clinton, in a showing that could spark concerns among some Democrats, does not fare as well. Against Giuliani, for instance, the poll found she would lose by 10 percentage points.
Overall, the survey underscored the unsettled nature of the Republican contest, with voters splitting roughly along ideological lines.
Giuliani, whose views on abortion, gay rights and guns are to the left of many in his party, has built a wide base among moderates and independents, while Thompson has drawn conservatives, particularly among the religious right.
That dynamic, however, could change quickly. Giuliani has faced a swarm of media scrutiny of his weak spots for months, but retains a lead in national polls, although it is somewhat diminished.
Thompson, by contrast, is only starting to introduce himself. He has never endured the rigors of a high-profile campaign and has not parried with rivals in debates, as Giuliani and nine other Republicans have done three times this spring.
Thompson “has this allure, but he hasn’t been tested yet,” said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, who conducted the survey. “He has gotten a free ride so far.”
For months, many conservatives have been uneasy with their choices. The survey shows that a substantial bloc, voters like poll respondent Ted Uhlemann, 56, of Littleton, Colo., is gravitating toward Thompson, an opponent of abortion rights and gun control.
“He’s just more conservative than the rest of them,” Uhlemann, an environmental engineer, said of the top Republicans in a follow-up interview. “They’re all a little more liberal than I would expect the candidate for the Republican Party to be.”
For Giuliani, an ace remains his leadership of New York after the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001. More than two-thirds of Republican-leaning primary voters rate a candidate’s views on terrorism and national security as more important than stands on social issues. The top pick for those voters: Giuliani, who has focused his campaign heavily on his record and his commitment to fight terrorism.
For McCain, the survey pointed to lasting trouble among conservative Republicans: One in four would not vote for him under any circumstances. Their longstanding gripes have included his opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts and his backing for efforts -- now apparently stalled in Congress -- to put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
“McCain has too much of a liberal bent,” said Pat Pensa, 60, a Republican housewife who lives in Kennesaw, Ga., and leans toward Thompson.
As for Romney, the poll found no advancement despite a “60 Minutes” profile, a Time magazine cover story and other national exposure in recent weeks. Also, Thompson’s initial success in attracting conservatives raises doubts about Romney’s drive to make inroads among those voters.
Still, polls in Iowa and New Hampshire -- early-voting states where Romney has campaigned heavily -- put him in the top tier, offering hope that success there could build momentum for primaries elsewhere.
Stuck on the bottom rungs in the Republican contest are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who gets 3%; former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, 2%; Rep. Duncan Hunter of El Cajon, 1%; and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, less than 1%. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is not in the race and has said he will not decide about running until the fall, gets 9%.
When GOP primary voters were asked to choose among the top four, the field broke into upper and lower ranks. On top were Giuliani, 32%, and Thompson, 28%; below were McCain, 17%, and Romney, 14%.
In the Democratic contest, Clinton’s strong support among women, liberals, minorities and older voters has kept her in first place.
“I just believe that she’s right for the time,” said Phyllis Fisher, 67, an Arkansas independent who plans to vote in the Democratic primary.
The poll found Clinton a heavy favorite among Democratic primary voters who value long experience in government and policy-making over an ability to bridge partisan divides.
But a majority of Democrats and independents who plan to vote in the party’s nominating contests say a candidate’s ability to bridge those divides is more important -- and those voters favor Obama.
Among Obama’s other strengths: Younger voters prefer him to Clinton, and he runs well -- roughly even with Clinton -- among more affluent and more educated voters.
His supporters are also more inclined than Clinton’s to view the Iraq war as the most important issue in the race.
“We should have never gotten involved in it,” said Kentucky nurse Frederick Cole, 52, a Democrat. Obama’s opposition to the war before it started is part of what motivated Cole’s support.
Beyond the top candidates, the poll found no evidence of a breakthrough by lesser-known Democrats: Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware gets 5%; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, 4%; Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, 2%; and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, 1%.
Narrowed to three choices, Clinton finishes first with 42%, followed by Obama, 32%, and Edwards, 20%.
Good news for Giuliani
The hypothetical general-election matchups did not include Thompson, since he has not formally entered the race. In many cases, the poll found that top Democrats and the top Republicans would be locked in close contests.
The notable exceptions include Giuliani defeating Clinton, 49% to 39%, and Romney losing by double digits to Obama or Edwards. Also lopsided was Obama’s margin over McCain: 47% to 35%.
Obama would defeat Giuliani, 46% to 41%, the poll found, and Edwards also ran ahead of the former mayor, 46% to 43%.
The poll of 1,056 registered voters was conducted by telephone Thursday through Sunday. Republican-leaning voters totaled 408; Democratic ones numbered 449. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for all voters, and plus or minus 5 points for voters in each primary.
Jill Darling, associate director of the Times Poll, contributed to this report.
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Still Clinton and Giuliani for 2008
Rudolph W. Giuliani still leads Republican candidates among Times Poll respondents, but conservative Fred Thompson is gaining. Here’s a look at who’s ahead and other issues in the run-up to the 2008 presidential primaries:
Q: If the Republican primary or caucus for president were being held in your state today and the candidates were Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.), Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson (Wis.) and actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.), for whom would you vote? (Includes leaners*; among people who say they’ll vote Republican in the primary)
Republican primary voters
*--* Giuliani 27% Fred Thompson 21% McCain 12% Romney 10% Gingrich 9% Huckabee 3% Tommy Thompson 2% Hunter 1% Brownback -- Tancredo -- Other 1% Don’t know 14%
Q: Would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate for president in November 2008 if you knew he or she was in favor of abortion rights, or would knowing that not be a factor in your vote? (among people who say they’ll vote Republican in the primary)
*--* All GOP primary Conserva- voters tive GOP More likely 11% 8% Less likely 39 45 Not a factor 48 45 Don’t know 2 2
Q: If the Democratic primary or caucus for president were being held in your state today and the candidates were Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Christoper J. Dodd (Conn.), former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), former Vice President Al Gore, and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, for whom would you vote? (Includes leaners*; among people who say they’ll vote Democratic in the primary)
Among Democratic primary voters
*--* Clinton 33% Obama 22% Gore 15% Edwards 8% Biden 5% Richardson 4% Kucinich 2% Dodd 1% Other 1% Don’t know 9%
Q: What is more important to you in choosing a candidate for president: a candidate who bridges partisan divides, or a candidate with long experience in government and policymaking?
*--* Bridges divides Experience All Dem. primary voters 51% 31% Those who would vote for: Obama 31% 11% Clinton 21 51 Gore 15 14 Edwards 11 4 Biden 7 3 Richardson 3 6 Kucinich 3 -- Dodd -- 3
Q: If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee, will your feelings about Bill Clinton affect your decision to vote for or against her in the upcoming presidential general election, or will it not affect the way you vote one way or the other?
(among registered voters)
*--* Dem. Ind. GOP Male Female Positive way 19% 5% 3% 13% 7% Negative way 6 12 24 17 12 Not affect vote 75 82 73 70 80 Don’t know -- 1 -- -- 1
Q: When you decide which candidate to support for your party’s presidential nomination, is his or her stand on Iraq/illegal immigration . . . : (among registered voters)
*--* Iraq Illegal immigration The most important issue 36% 15% An important issue, but not most important 58 66 Not too important 4 16 Not important at all 1 2
Note: "--" indicates less than 0.5%.
*Those who are leaning toward a candidate.
Answers may not total 100% where some answer categories are not shown.
Note: for more results and poll analysis, visit: www.latimes.com/timespoll
Methodology: The Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll contacted 1,183 adults nationwide by telephone June 7 through 10, 2007. Included are 1,056 registered voters, 449 Democratic primary voters and 408 Republican primary voters. “Primary voters” include both registered party members and eligible others who plan to vote in the party primaries. The 2008 presidential election match-up questions were split among two random subgroups of 513 and 543 registered voters respectively. Telephone numbers were chosen randomly from a list of all exchanges in the nation, allowing listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Adults were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census proportions by sex, ethnicity, age, education, and national region. The margin of sampling error for all adults and all registered voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For Democratic and Republican primary voters, it is plus or minus 5 percentage points. For each of the odd/even subgroups, the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. For certain other subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.
Sources: LATimes/Bloomberg Poll