The 2008 presidential race is a contest in political contradictions. The Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, has the highest unfavorable ratings in the field, with scores in the high 40s. Rudolph W. Giuliani, who rose to prominence in New York, a bastion of liberalism, is the leading Republican candidate in a party marked by its dyed-in-the-wool conservatism.
Six months before the party primaries officially begin to choose their candidates, these contradictions are turning the respective races for the nomination into a volatile and increasingly competitive obstacle course, where their strongest opponents are potentially within striking range of overtaking them.
Among the Democrats, the New York senator enters the latter half of 2007 still leading all of her opponents. But her first-place margins have swung widely up and down since January, ranging from 9 points to 19 points ahead of her closest rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
A Gallup Poll conducted June 11-14 showed Mrs. Clinton leading Mr. Obama among Democratic voters by 12 points — 33 percent to 21 percent — in a survey that also included former Vice President Al Gore.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential nominee, and Mr. Gore, the party's 2000 presidential nominee, who has not ruled out a bid for the nomination, jockey for third place.
But thus far "there has been little indication that either Gore or Edwards (let alone the other Democrats who will campaign for the nomination) are making significant-enough gains to challenge Clinton," Gallup chief executive Frank Newport said in an analysis last week.
Still, Mrs. Clinton's front-runner status faces problems on two fronts: polls showing that she has the highest voter-disapproval ratings in the general electorate of any top-tier candidate in either party, raising questions about her electability; and Mr. Obama's fundraising, which in the past two quarters outraised the former first lady through a significantly larger grass-roots base of contributors.
She raised $19.1 million in the first quarter from a total of 60,000 contributors, compared with $24.8 million raised by Mr. Obama from a donor list of more than 250,000. While the second-quarter numbers have yet to be released, the Clinton campaign revealed last week that Mr. Obama's contributions over the last three months will likely exceed Mrs. Clinton's total again.
A June 22-24 Gallup poll that asked 1,029 Americans if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion on each candidate showed that Mrs. Clinton's favorables had risen to 51 percent but that 44 percent had an unfavorable opinion of her. That compared with Mr. Obama's 47 percent to 24 percent favorability scores and Mr. Giuliani's even more favorable 58 percent to 27 percent rating.
Other polls showed that Mrs. Clinton's favorable scores were worse in key battleground states that could decide the outcome in 2008. In Florida, for example, her favorable-unfavorable ratio was 47 percent to 47 percent, compared with Mr. Obama's 44 percent to 19 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.
Mr. Giuliani, on the other hand, had a 54 percent to 28 percent favorable ratio among Florida voters and would defeat Mrs. Clinton in a general election 48 percent to 42 percent, the Quinnipiac poll found.
Mr. Giuliani's liberal positions on gun control, abortion and other cultural issues have drawn criticism from social and religious conservatives, but he has sought to overcome their opposition by stressing his leadership skills and his conservative positions on national security and economic and fiscal issues.
Mr. Giuliani's address last week at Virginia's Regent University, hosted by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, won praise from Mr. Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition.
A survey of Republicans by Fabrizio McLaughlin, a Republican polling firm, conducted in June showed that Mr. Giuliani polled well among "moralist" voters, described as churchgoers and pro-life on abortion, drawing 21 percent of their support. "That presents a huge problem for someone trying to be a consensus conservative and take him on," Tony Fabrizio said last week at a briefing on his poll findings.