New WSJ/NBC Poll: Mixed Bag For Presidential Contenders

Democrats enter the 2008 presidential race with powerful political advantages. But they face a tough and unpredictable battle because of the vulnerabilities of front-runner Hillary Clinton. A new Wall Street Journal-NBC poll shows that Americans have turned sharply away from President Bush and toward domestic issues favoring his partisan adversaries.

But offsetting that demand for change in the presidential contest are reservations about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s truthfulness and ideology, even as Americans applaud her experience and leadership qualities. The result: she's locked in a dead heat against leading Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani.

Here are the key data points:

--By 50% to 35%, the poll shows, Americans prefer that a Democrat gets elected to succeed Mr. Bush next November. In a direct matchup of leading candidates, however, that margin shrinks to 46% for Mrs. Clinton and 45% for Mr. Giuliani.

--There's a remarkable divergence in assessments of Mrs. Clinton’s personal qualities. While a 51% majority gives her high marks for being “knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency,” pluralities rate Mrs. Clinton negatively on honesty, likeability, and sharing their positions on of the issues.

--That may hurt her in a general election, but so far it ’s not hurting her nationally in the Democratic primary contest. Mrs. Clinton leads with 47% support to 25% for Mr. Obama and 11% for Mr. Edwards, who fell from 16% in September. The top candidates remain in a competitive three-way contest in Iowa, however.

--Among Republicans, Mr. Giuliani, who notwithstanding his support for abortion rights picked up the support of religious right leader Pat Robertson yesterday, leads with 33%; Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who gained the endorsement of Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, another prominent conservative Christian who recently dropped out of the presidential race, runs second at 16%.

--Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who burst into second place in the Republican field when he entered the race this summer, is fading. He's s fallen to 15% from 23% in late September. Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who leads in the kickoff states of Iowa and New Hampshire, remains stuck in fourth place nationally at 11%. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who has performed well in debates but raised little money, has crept up to 8% nationally.

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