Poll shows Huckabee gaining

Ex-governor closing gap with Giuliani, nationwide survey shows

December 05, 2007|By Janet Hook | Janet Hook,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Mike Huckabee, the ascendant Republican presidential candidate in Iowa, is enjoying a surge of support across the country - and Rudolph W. Giuliani seems to be paying the biggest price, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

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 former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who long had led in the state where the nomination process officially starts.

In the Times/Bloomberg poll, Huckabee was preferred by 17 percent of likely GOP voters - up from 7 percent 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 during the past two months to 23 percent.

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 prepares for a speech tomorrow 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, 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.

Clinton was favored by 45 percent of those polled; 21 percent chose Obama, and 11 percent were for Edwards.

Those figures represent slight increases for Obama and Edwards and a small dip 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 all candidates. But in the Democratic race, the new national survey underscores that despite the close contest in Iowa, Clinton retains a strong advantage elsewhere.

The poll also illustrates the unsettled nature of the GOP field.

One measure of its instability: Among the Republican-leaning voters who backed a candidate, 47 percent said they might vote for someone else. That's down from 61 percent in October but still more than the 37 percent of Democratic-leaning voters who 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 face an electorate that remains sour about the nation and President Bush. Only 24 percent think the country is going in the right direction; 35 percent approve of how Bush is handling his job.

The voters were split on which party would do a better job handling the situation in Iraq: 38 percent gave the nod to the Democrats, 35 percent to the Republicans.

In the GOP contest, the signs of Huckabee's upswing come as competition has intensified in Iowa. Despite the appeal he is now demonstrating outside Iowa, questions remain about whether he can fortify his campaign infrastructure to capitalize on a strong showing there.

The new poll shows that Huckabee still faces other major obstacles to turning positive opinion into political capital. Only 6 percent of Republican voters named him as the candidate with the best chance of winning the general election; 38 percent selected Giuliani.

Among self-described conservatives, Huckabee is running even with Giuliani with support from 20 percent of voters - a big swing from October, when Giuliani drew 34 percent of conservatives and Huckabee 9 percent.

Conservative support for former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, meanwhile, dropped to 12 percent in the survey, compared with 19 percent in October. Support for Romney stayed about the same, at 12 percent.

Huckabee strength is especially evident among regular churchgoers: 23 percent of those who said they attended religious services at least once a week preferred him, more than double the share he drew in October.

Among Democratic voters, Clinton's continuing double-digit lead suggests that stepped-up attacks on her by Obama and Edwards in recent candidate debates did not drive away backers nationwide.

Janet Hook writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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