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Parsing the Polls: Hizzoner's National Appeal

After dedicating a recent Parsing the Polls to the question of whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton can win the presidency, The Fix got to thinking about another New York politician with national ambitions -- former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R).

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani is second only to John McCain in the eyes of Republicans around the country. (AP)

While Giuliani has largely avoided any high-profile politicking in the last year or so, he continues to be at or near the top of the field in any hypothetical 2008 GOP primary ballot. Strategic Vision -- a Republican polling firm -- has released a series of state surveys recently showing that Giuliani with an impressive national profile.

Let's look at the surveys and see what they tell us about Hizzoner's chances at the nomination:

In a Michigan Strategic Vision poll, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) led the pack with 37 percent to Giuliani's 25 percent in a hypothetical primary. No other Republican broke 10 percent. (McCain won the Michigan primary in 2000 over President George W. Bush and remains a popular figure in the state.) A Wisconsin survey showed Giuliani on top with 35 percent compared with 26 percent for McCain and 14 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Giuliani held a 40 percent to 31 percent lead over McCain in Pennsylvania and a 28 percent to 22 percent margin over the Arizonan in Georgia, according to Strategic Vision.

So ... four polls from three different regions of the country (Midwest, East and South) all showing Giuliani either in first or second place.

On one level, the results are not at all surprising. Giuliani is perhaps the best known Republican politician (aside from President Bush) in the country, thanks to his handling of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Following the attacks, Giuliani rose to near hero status in the eyes of many Americans and remains one of the brightest stars on the GOP fundraising circuit. When Republicans are asked who they would support in 2008, it makes sense that Giuliani is one of the first names on their lips.

While these polls are largely name ID tests at the moment, that doesn't mean they are entirely without merit.  Giuliani's ability to appeal to GOP primary voters in different regions of the country is a sign that should he decide to run, he looks to be one of only a handful of candidates who could compete in all of the earlier states simultaneously.

What is impossible to tell from polls taken this long before the 2008 race, however, is how GOP caucus and primary voters, who tend to be conservatives, will react when informed of some of Giuliani's more liberal issue positions. Giuliani is pro-abortion rights and is on the record in opposition to President Bush's call for a ban on gay marriage -- stances not likely to win him supporters among the party's ideological right.

The question for Giuliani is whether his status as the  September 11 savior will insulate him from the inevitable attacks from his Republican rivals about his positioning on key social issues. No candidate with the issue positions of Hizzoner has ever come close to winning a contested Republican presidential primary fight (remember Pete Wilson in 1996?). At the same time, no candidate in recent memory has ever brought Giuliani's profile to a GOP presidential fight.

Giuliani is clearly aware of the vulnerabilities on his right flank. As first reported by Hotline's On Call blog, Giuliani spoke to a major gathering of evangelical pastors in Orlando, Fla., late last month -- an apparent move to reach out to social conservatives.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 8, 2006; 8:34 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Parsing the Polls  
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