Call him Rudolph the front-running underdog
The oddest thing about the conventional wisdom may be its almost bulletproof imperviousness to the facts. An excellent example of this phenomenon is Arizona Senator John McCain’s oft-trumpeted status as frontrunner for the 2008 Republican nomination. Conversely, the cognoscenti titter at former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as terminally liberal.
“McCain and Sen. [Hillary] Clinton are the ones to beat for their parties’ nominations,” political analyst Craig Crawford recently wrote. “While former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was once thought to be a threat to McCain, his star has faded since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. [Massachusetts governor Mitt] Romney now seems to be the early favorite for the anybody-but-McCain vote.”
I appeared on CNBC’s Kudlow & Co. on November 22 with Crawford, NR’s Ramesh Ponnuru, and Tulane University professor Marc Lamont Hill. All three crowned McCain the frontrunner. “In fact,” Professor Hill explained, “if Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are the two finalists, so to speak, then McCain should start writing his acceptance speech right now, because there’s no way Giuliani can win this.”
But wait. Apart from the oft-reverberating echoes of what “everybody knows,” what evidence is there that McCain is the frontrunner? Au contraire, countervailing evidence has piled as high as the Grand Canyon is deep.
A new Quinnipiac University survey is just the latest in an almost unanimous array of polls that shows Giuliani, not McCain, heading the GOP’s 2008 parade.
The November 27 “Feeling Thermometer” from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute asked 1,623 registered voters to rate the warmth of national leaders from 0 –100. “The higher the number, the warmer or more favorable you feel toward that person, the lower the number, the colder or less favorable.”
Among 20 top American leaders, Rudy Giuliani is rated No. 1 with a “temperature” of 64.2. McCain is third at 57.7. Among other key Republicans, Condoleezza Rice is fourth (56.1), Romney 13th (45.9), President George W. Bush 15th (43.8), and Newt Gingrich is 17th (42).
Among Democrats rated in the overall study (whose error margin is +/- 2.4 percent), Illinois senator Barack Obama is second (58.8). Hillary Clinton is 9th (49), and Massachusetts senator John Kerry, with a chilly 39.6, sails in dead last among the 20 pols Quinnipiac discussed with respondents between November 13 and 19.
Giuliani’s standing among the 490 self-identified Republicans Quinnipiac surveyed is even more compelling. Republicans give Giuliani a very comfortable temperature of 71.7. That puts him just behind Rice (72.3) and Bush (72.1), neither of whom is expected to be on the ballot in 2008. Among those who might run, Giuliani is well ahead of McCain (62.2), Gingrich (58.9), and Romney (52.8). (Error margin for this subset: +/- 4.4 percent).
Most fascinating is Giuliani’s performance among self-professed “White evangelicals/Born-again Christians.” Here again, among 439 of the study’s most socially conservative respondents, Giuliani is at the top of the heap. He scores 66.3, ahead of Rice (64.4), Bush (58.1), McCain (57.1), Gingrich (47.8), and Romney (46.4). (Error margin for these respondents: +/- 4.7 percent.)
For further details, please see this chart I compiled.
In other recent surveys, Giuliani also leads the way.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen found Giuliani with 24 percent to 18 for Rice and 17 for McCain in a November 4 – 7 national survey of 1,050 Republicans and 203-GOP-leaning independents. With Rice excluded and her votes reallocated, “Giuliani would top McCain 32 percent to 22 percent,” Rasmussen told me.
The closest McCain gets to Giuliani in a national poll is in Opinion Research Corporation/CNN’s November 17 – 19 survey of 365 Republican adults. McCain earned 30 percent, but, again, Rudy ranked first with 33 percent. Gingrich and Romney tied at 9 percent. (Error margin: +/- 5 percent.)
In Strategic Vision’s selected state-by-state surveys released November 6, Giuliani outpaced McCain by nine points in Georgia, 19 in Florida and Washington State, 22 in New Jersey, and 23 points in Pennsylvania. Romney rose no higher than third in these states.
McCain only can point to Michigan as a state where he tops Giuliani — specifically 33 percent to 25.
The conventional wisdom further argues that Giuliani benefits from his high name ID in the wake of his universally covered and highly appreciated leadership on September 11. But Giuliani is not outshining a state senator here or a second-term House member there. McCain is widely known from coast to coast, as are Gingrich, Bush, and Rice. Giuliani easily outpolls the former speaker of the House of Representatives and the man who was runner-up for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination. Giuliani tops the current secretary of State and the president of the United States in general “warmth” and comes within 0.6 and 0.4 “degrees” of them in popularity among Republicans.
As for his alleged liberalism, Giuliani, to be sure, will face resistance from Republican primary voters who differ with him on abortion, gay marriage, and gun ownership. While Giuliani’s views on these issues eventually may gravitate to the right, he will address his potential critics with an enormous reservoir of goodwill, as Quinnipiac’s numbers show.
Some have speculated that Giuliani’s numbers will fall once GOP voters across America learn that he favors civil unions, is pro-choice, and has called for greater gun regulations. Perhaps.
But his numbers could hold or even rise once Republicans outside Gotham learn that, as mayor, he cut the local tax burden by 19 percent, jettisoned racial and gender preferences for contracting (during his first month as mayor, no less), hunted deadbeat dads and made them pay their child support, implemented charter schools, promoted “vouchers” (always embracing that word), and hosed down seedy, crime-infested areas such as Times Square. It now is safe, literally, for Mary Poppins — a new Disney musical that opened on 42nd Street, where pornographic films unspooled prior to Giuliani’s tenure.
Can you say, “family values?”
Giuliani may secure the 2008 Republican nomination and coast to a Reaganesque landslide that November. Or he could go up in flames in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire that February. Who knows? It’s too early to say.
What we can say today is that Giuliani currently outruns his rivals for the GOP nomination, even if most of the press corps’ eyes are too welded shut to notice (Ryan Sager and Philip Klein are two notable exceptions). With the polls showing him ahead and the conventional wisdom dismissing his prospects, Rudolph W. Giuliani has achieved the impossible: He’s a front-running underdog.
This article originally appeared in The National Review Online on November 30th, 2006. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission. Researcher Marco DeSena contributed to this article.