Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Poll after poll shows dissatisfaction with President Bush and an “enthusiasm gap” working against Republicans heading into next year’s elections, yet the top Republican presidential candidates are running even with or ahead of the top Democrats in head-to-head matchups.

“A major cautionary note for the Democrats at this point in the election cycle is the disparity between Americans’ partisan preferences for the next president in the abstract and their preferences between specific candidates being offered up to the voters,” the Gallup Poll said in a analysis.

In a Quinnipiac University Poll released last week, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani leads Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the three swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. The same poll shows that Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, leads Mrs. Clinton in Ohio and Pennsylvania and is tied with her in Florida, and he splits with Mr. Obama, leading in Ohio, trailing in Pennsylvania and tied in Florida.

In Gallup’s national poll, Mr. Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton are virtually tied — and other polls have shown similar results.

However, polls asking voters whether they prefer a generic Republican or generic Democrat for president give the Democrats a strong advantage. A Bloomberg-Los Angeles Times poll taken April 5 to 9 found 49 percent of registered voters wanted the Democratic Party to win the White House, 10 percentage points more than favored Republicans.

“It is an apparent contradiction. The explanation lies in the difference between the approval and disapproval of one president versus a comparison of two different candidates,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said.

“A lot of people who disapprove of both the war in Iraq and President Bush’s handling of it do not necessarily want Hillary or a Democrat as president. That is particularly true of independents who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats for Congress in the 2006 election, but they split fairly evenly when the choice is Rudy or Hillary,” he said.

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said it proves that the candidates matter.

“It tends to be a situation where the presidential nominee is more important than anything else, and that would override to some degree any party inclinations,” he said. “George Bush is not on the ballot in 2008, so the animus a lot of Americans feel toward George Bush may or may not be translated to the Republican nominee.”

He said much will depend on whether Democrats can successfully tie the top Republicans to Mr. Bush.

Asked Sunday about the top Republicans’ strong performance, presidential hopeful John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator who was the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee in 2004, said he had seen a poll that showed him beating all of the major Republicans, including Mr. Giuliani.

“Having said all that, I think that we’re so early now, I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in it,” he said.

Still, the polls provide a strong argument for Mr. Giuliani, who is trying to convince Republican voters he is the candidate with the best chance to beat Democrats in 2008.

“The more people find out about his tax cutting and his fiscal conservatism, the more people are attracted to him,” said Jim Dyke, an adviser to Mr. Giuliani. “Generic polling is not that great of an indicator because people typically vote for a candidate, and not only do they vote for that candidate, but vote for that candidate when compared to another candidate.”

A big reason why the electorate’s anti-Republican mood does not appear to be hurting the poll responses to Mr. Giuliani or Mr. McCain is that they “have a personal favorability image that is not connected to their being Republicans,” said pollster Bill McInturff at Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm.

But Mr. McInturff, who polls for the McCain campaign, cautions that “their personal appeal does not do anything to mitigate the problems facing the Republicans” arising from the war.

Still, he believes Mrs. Clinton faces big obstacles, too, as a candidate whose political brand “is perceived as being very left of center and perhaps out of the American mainstream on important social issues.”

“She has a net negative favorability rating among white voters, and substantial negative ratings among white men. Fifty-eight percent perceive her to be a liberal, which is roughly three times the number of people in the country who identify themselves as liberals,” he said.

Oddly enough, according to the Quinnipiac poll, an unannounced candidate, former Vice President Al Gore, gives Mr. Giuliani his closest competition, even tying him in Pennsylvania.

As of last week, Mrs. Clinton’s lead in the Democratic field continued to shrink, with Mr. Obama trailing her by just five points, 36 percent to 31 percent, and Mr. Edwards in third place at 20 percent, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The poll of 1,004 adults was taken April 20 to 23.

Mrs. Clinton should be “scared to death” of the latest polling numbers, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse told MSNBC Friday. “She’s on the primary highway putting along at 50 [miles per hour] and Obama is in the rearview mirror going 75. She’s got a very tough race ahead, and Obama’s got big Mo.’ ”

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