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New WSJ/NBC Poll: What The Nation Is Thinking For 2008

With fewer than two months to go before the all-important Iowa caucuses, our new WSJ-NBC poll gives a great snapshot of where the race stands nationally. Of course the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire give a different competitive picture (Mitt Romney leads both among Republicans, while Hillary Clinton faces a battle in Iowa from both Barack Obama and John Edwards). But the national picture counts for something, too.

Some key findings:

--CLINTON NEUTRALIZES Obama's strengths among Democratic primary voters. Two-thirds of Democrats give the New York senator strong marks for “bringing real change,” compared to half who say that about Obama. The potential first woman president outpaces potential first African-American president on representing “an exciting choice,” and matches him on “being compassionate.” Among respondents overall, the top three concerns about Clinton are “too evasive,” “too liberal” and “too polarizing.” In blending toughness and divisiveness, “She’s really Richard Nixon circa 1968,” says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the Journal-NBC survey with Republican Bill McInturff. One bright spot for her: Just 8% worry “Bill Clinton’s personal behavior might embarrass the country again.”

--VOTERS POLARIZE on qualities they want in Bush’s successor. Liberals cite “working well with leaders in other countries” and “bringing unity to the country.” Conservatives most want “strong moral and family values” and a “tough and firm” leadership style. Moderates lean toward the liberals’ priorities. Partisans also display an optimism gap. Two thirds of Democrats say America “is in a state of decline,” while most Republicans say it isn’t. Some 68% of “strong Democrats” want a president “who will focus on progress,” while 76% of strong Republicans want emphasis on “protecting what has made America great.”

--GIULIANI MOVES AHEAD on the Republican right as Thompson fades. By 31%-18%, Republicans calling themselves “very conservative” now back the former New York City mayor over ex-Tennessee senator in primary fight. That’s a mirror image of their standing in late September. In the poll, taken before Pat Robertson’s endorsement, 53% of white evangelicals gave Giuliani a positive rating, while 27% rated him negatively. One in five Democrats and independents say country isn’t ready for an Italian-American president; one in four Republicans and independents say America isn’t ready for a woman president. Top concerns about Giuliani: he has “little experience on foreign policy” and is “only running based on…9/11.”

--NO CONSENSUS: By 49%-40%, Americans back the conservative health-care solutions of tax credits and health-savings accounts over a government coverage mandate backed by subsidies for the poor. But by 51%-42%, they back liberal idea of tax increases on the rich to expand coverage over continued tax cuts.

--IRAN RISES as foreign-policy concern, which could hurt Clinton in the primaries. By 41%-36%, respondents identify Iran as bigger threat to Middle East stability than Iraq. And two-thirds of Democratic voters call recent passage of Senate resolution targeting Iran “a bad thing,” encouraging Obama and Edwards to continue targeting Clinton’s “aye” vote. Two thirds of Republicans call White House-backed resolution “a good thing.” Another bright spot for Clinton, however: her primary voters back Iraq troop withdrawals more fervently than Obama’s, a sign she has blunted his attempt to galvanize war opponents.

--GREEN MACHINE: In wake of his Oscar and Nobel Prize wins, Gore’s favorable rating has risen to 44% from 30% in mid-2006.

Questions? Comments? Write to politicalcapital@cnbc.com.