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Why Giuliani is Still the Frontrunner

By Ross Kaminsky

I am enthusiastic about both Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani. I believe one of them will be the Republican nominee.

There is a lot of excitement about Thompson and he is polling exceptionally well for someone who hasn't spent a dime on advertising or even officially entered the race.

I am a big fan of Thompson's recent commentary and speeches in which he emphasizes first principles such as federalism and limited government.

Thompson and Giuliani are likely to have fairly similar positions on economic and foreign policy issues. At this point, leaving aside the down-and-dirty political mudslinging we'll likely see, the real differences between the two are, from a true policy standpoint, social issues (particularly abortion), and, from a political perception standpoint, the question of "who is the real conservative?".

I believe this question is a double-edged sword for conservatives (and for the record, I don't actually consider myself a conservative; I'm far more libertarian.)

The conservative base of the GOP will be very tempted by Fred Thompson, as they should be. He is smart, charismatic (enough to be on TV and in movies at least), folksy, and his career as an actor will lead many to obvious comparisons with Ronald Reagan. And based on the little I know right now about Thompson, it is easy to conceive of him as a very good and effective President were he to win the election.

But that last qualifier is a very big deal.

Although Rudy's lead over Republican opposition for the nomination has been slipping, primarily because of Thompson's entry into the race, conservatives and libertarians alike must keep in mind that the brass ring is the election, not the nomination.

And while it is still VERY early in this process, internals of a recent Quinnipiac University poll show why I believe Rudy is still somewhat more likely to get the nomination than Fred: He is more likely to be able to win the general election.

For example, the Quinnipiac Poll shows Giuliani tied with or leading Hillary Clinton in three critical swing states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The analysis in the link above focuses on Giuliani's lead shrinking from prior polls, but that is not the key. The key is that Giuliani far outperforms the other Republican frontrunners.

Take particular note of Ohio. For a Democrat to win, (s)he needs to win every state that Al Gore/John Kerry won, plus Ohio. In this recent poll--and I re-emphasize that it is very early in the race--McCain and Thompson both trail Clinton and Obama.

Pennsylvania is also critical: It is a very big state which went to Kerry over Bush by 144,000 votes (a 2% difference, so a 1% swing would change the outcome). The Quinnipiac poll shows Giuliani tied with Clinton and beating both Gore and Obama, whereas all three Democrats win head-to-head polls versus both Thompson and McCain.

Even if a Republican doesn't win Pennsylvania, it is critical that the race there be made competitive and that Democrats are forced to spend resources there and in other "blue states" which had a reasonable chance of voting for a Republican whom they find compelling.

As unlikely as it is that a Republican could win New York, Rudy's nomination would cause Democrats to have to spend a massive amount of time and money there, lessening their ability to focus on Ohio, Florida, or on states which were "red states" but by a small margin.

The other important internal in this poll, which you can see by comparing questions 3 and 9 in the poll detail, is that Giuliani does much better among women than the other Republican candidates.

The "gender gap" is a huge problem for Republicans, and Rudy is, in my view, the most likely candidate to fill in the gap a bit. Although Fred Thompson still has plenty of time to market himself to American men and women alike, his very nature as a 6'6" attorney with a gravelly voice is likely to remain much more appealing to male voters than to female.

Additionally, and more importantly, Giuliani owns the issue of security and fighting terrorism. The other Republicans do their best with it, and they're almost all much better than any Democrat, but safety and security is what Rudy is now famous for, and those issues have far more traction with women than things like federalism, low taxes, and the other important issues that Thompson has so far emphasized.

While I would be (based on what I know today) equally pleased to see Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson as our next President, us who care about the future of our nation must keep our eye on the prize, namely winning the general election. At the end of the day, my primary vote will go to whichever of these two candidates I believe has the best chance of winning the prize. The risk to our country of another Clinton presidency is far too high to vote for a candidate who might be philosophically slightly more pure but less likely to win.

Ross Kaminsky blogs at Rossputin.com

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