Hillary leads the Democrats, Republicans fight for an edge

2008 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Rudy Giuliani is now leading Republican race for 2008.

The implosion in the McCain campaign has sparked fresh interest in the earlier-than-ever race to the White House set for November next year.

Last week, Arizona Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, watched two of his most senior aides, including his longtime political guru, walk out the door after an internal power struggle.

His support for the war in Iraq is also costing him among party moderates who fuelled his first presidential bid in 2000.

As his campaign implodes, two others stand to benefit from the spoils.

Republican strategist Hank Jones told The Straits Times: “If McCain does not recover, his supporters will be faced with a dilemma: either to support former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani whose conservative credentials are still not established, or the untested Fred Thompson who has captured the hopes of many Republicans looking for a Reagan-type figure.”

However, Mr McCain promised on Saturday to mount a comeback.

In New Hampshire, which holds one of the first contests in the nominating race in about six months, he told supporters he would outwork his rivals in the influential early voting states and win with the same formula that produced his victory in the New Hampshire primary in 2000.

It has been a stunning free-fall for the candidate who at the beginning of the year was seen as the front runner for the Republican Party.

In a USA Today/ Gallup Poll in December, he was tied at 28 per cent with Mr Giuliani, acclaimed for his handling of the Sept 11 crisis.

But in a survey taken last week, Mr McCain was third at 16 per cent, behind Mr Giuliani who led the Republicans at 30 per cent. Mr Giuliani held a 10-point lead over former senator Fred Thompson, who has yet to announce his candidacy.

Mr Giuliani’s lead in the polls comes down to being “electable”. Voters see him as the man who can beat Mrs Hillary Clinton.

But his backing of abortion rights and gay rights could undermine support among conservative Republicans who could veer towards Mr Thompson.

The race for the White House between the Republicans and Democrats is a study of contrasts. While on one side, a pitched battle is raging, on the other, an imminent crowning seems all but assured.

For the Democrats, New York Senator Clinton appears in a clear lead to win the primaries in February next year.

Mrs Clinton’s lead has increased over her two main rivals: Senator Barrack Obama of Illinois and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

In the USA Today/ Gallup Poll last week, she was the choice of 37 per cent of respondents, up from 33 per cent last month. Mr Obama remained at 21 per cent and Mr Edwards got 13 per cent.

Mrs Clinton has formidable strengths.

Besides money, she has vast political machinery, with tentacles across the country and a close-knit circle of advisers drawn from previous administrations – including her husband, former president Bill Clinton who is an effective campaigner.

Her closest challenger is Mr Obama, an African-American, who at 45 is the youngest in the Democrat field.

But with Mrs Clinton’s grip on the party, it will be harder for him to win the nomination. He will also be in for a rougher ride with the passage of time.

Harvard Professor Thomas Patterson, a leading expert on US electoral politics, said: “Clinton’s skeletons are already out in the public and she is dealing with them. Obama has yet to deal with his skeletons that are not out yet for all to see.”

His opponents might well exploit his inexperience in government, the race issue, and his admitted drug use when he was young might just haunt his campaign.

That could leave Mrs Clinton in pole position for the primaries. She might win the Democrat nomination but many are not sure if she will carry the national vote.

In fact, the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that 48 per cent have a favourable opinion of Mrs Clinton and 48 per cent hold a negative view. Mr Giuliani, on the other hand, fared a lot better with 55 per cent having a positive opinion of him, and only 31 per cent holding an unfavourable view.

The Iraq war, however, will be a key factor in determining outcome.

If anything, observers argue that the Democrat position could grow stronger over the next 16 months if the bloody conflict worsens.

“There is a mood for change in the US,” said Prof Patterson.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is Clinton or someone else from the party, a Democrat victory will be even more certain if George W. Bush and some Republicans remain hell bent on staying in Iraq.”

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