While the 2008 presidential election may seem far away, potential candidates are already positioning themselves for a run. With high stakes and partisanship running at a fever pitch, the campaign is likely to start the moment the midterm election ends a few weeks from now.
Everyone has their favorite candidate and every candidate already has surrogates out on the news networks and in the blogosphere promoting them and raising their name awareness with the public.
It might surprise a lot of these partisan promoters to learn that according to the latest polls the public has already pretty much narrowed the field of candidates to a very small group who are leading so overwhelmingly in public approval that some of the more minor candidates might be best served by not attempting attempting a doomed run.
According to the most recent Marist Poll, Hillary Clinton completely dominates the herd of Democratic candidates. They rate her at 35% with her rating increasing, while the nearest contenders are Al Gore and John Edwards and their percentages are less than half hers and are dropping. The lesser candidates are barely even registering with the voters with at most a percentage point or two of support. These results are similar in a recent poll from CNN.
The Republican race is a bit less one-sided, with three meaningful contenders and the rest of the pack lagging very far behind. Almost all the polls show Rudy Giuliani ahead by several points with increasing support, followed by John McCain and Condoleeza Rice fighting it out for second place with flagging support. The Marist Poll cited earlier has Giuliani at 23%, Rice at 20% and McCain at 15%. CNN shows Giuliani with an even stronger lead at 31%, followed by McCain at 20%, but it doesn't factor in Rice.
Some of the polls have also done individual approval ratings on the candidates and even candidate pairings to see who would win under various scenarios.
Approval rating polls universally show Giuliani with the strongest approval of all candidates of all parties and the lowest disapproval. A very recent Time Magazine poll shows Giuliani with a 51% approval rating to 43% for Hillary Clinton, 40% for John McCain and 39% for Al Gore. Giuliani also has a low disapproval rating at only 40% compared to a 53% disapproval for Clinton, a 57% disapproval for McCain and 56% disapproval for Gore.
Candidate comparrison polls also show Giuliani in the strongest position, beating Dermocratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton by a larger margin than any other potential Republican candidate. The Marist Poll shows only Giuliani or McCain beating Clinton, and Giuliani does it with a comfortable 7 point lead.
Giuliani has advantages which only a few other candidates share.
• He's not in Congress. With approval ratings in the low 20s and possibly going lower as a result of the Foley affair, and a disapproval rating averaging about 69%, Capitol Hill is like a political leper colony. This spells very bad news for Hillary Clinton, George Allen and a number of lesser contenders.
• He's not part of the Bush administration. Bush's has much better approval than Congress, but they're low enough to curse anyone associated with him to some degree. It's actually surprising that this hasn't hurt Secretary of State Rice's approval ratings more, but it's telling that no one else in the administration is even being looked at as a serious potential candidate. McCain, Allen and most of the other Republicans also suffer for Bush's shortcomings because they have supported him publicly on major controversial issues.
• He's not running for reelection in 2006. Other outsider-type candidates have to run for reelection to their current jobs and that gives them an opportunity to annoy the voters as has been ably demonstrated by George 'Macaca' Allen. Even Governor Mitt Romney has a scandal dogging his heels. It will be difficult for anyone running in 2006 not to have the criticism they face in their state elections carry over to the national election in 2008.
Of course, Giuliani does have his own negatives. He went through a notorious divorce a few years ago, something which also plagues McCain whose adultery is less well known because it was longer ago. Hillary Clinton is rowing the other side of the same boat with a husband who is the best-loved serial adulterer in the nation, which didn't hurt him much, but may reflect very negatively on her. Giuliani is also a cancer survivor a negative he shares with John McCain, although both were successfully treated for two of the most common and survivable forms of cancer. Interestingly, although Giuliani is viewed as relatively moderate, polls show him with substantially stronger support among moral conservatives than John McCain.
Although we are still two years out from the final vote, all of the polls clearly suggest that both the GOP primary and the general election are Giuliani's to lose. He currently has fewer negatives and more popular support than anyone else, and his outsider status insulates him to a large extent from the partisan bitterness which is almost certainly going to dominate the next two years in politics. As the campaign begins in earnest after November some of the other contenders are bound to make themselves better known – which is going to help the more obscure figures and may work against the better known candidates, but if Giuliani can retain his lead in the polls or regain it by the middle of next year he's going to be awfully hard to beat.