Clinton Leads '08 Dems; No Bounce for Obama

Hillary Clinton's confirmation of her presidential aspirations comes with a bonus: early frontrunner status in the race for her party's nomination.

Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., who announced her candidacy Saturday, holds a substantial lead in initial support from Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents -- 41-17 percent over her nearest competitor, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Obama, for his part, got no bounce by announcing his own interest last week; in fact his unfavorable rating has inched up from last month, and the race essentially is unchanged.

Clinton's support peaks among mainline Democrats -- more apt to vote in primaries -- and among blacks, a natural affinity group for Obama but also a strong base for Bill Clinton during his presidency. They prefer Hillary Clinton over Obama by 40 points, 60-20 percent.

2008 Democratic Preference (among leaned Democrats)
  Now Dec. 2006
Clinton   41%   39%
Obama   17   17
Edwards   11   12
Gore   10   10
Kerry   8   7

Across the way, among Republicans, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani holds a slight 34-27 percent lead over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Though he's often described as less conservative than much of his party, Giuliani's lead is bigger among conservative Republicans than among moderates, and, like Clinton, he does best with his party's more loyal adherents.

Head-to-head in general election preference -- with that election 22 months off -- Clinton and Giuliani run about evenly, and Clinton holds a slight, five-point edge over McCain, whose personal popularity has declined lately, possibly related to his support for the Iraq war.

Obama and the Republicans also run close -- suggesting that when Americans look beyond the broadly unpopular George W. Bush, the 50-50 nation reasserts itself.

Clinton has challenges for a general election race. She's the most polarizing of top potential candidates: While three-quarters of Democrats have a favorable opinion of her, three-quarters of Republicans view her unfavorably -- and independents split roughly down the middle. While enough people like her to elect her (54 percent), her unfavorable rating, at 44 percent, is the highest of the group, and 15 points higher than Giuliani's.

Stars

While that can be disparaged as mere name recognition, there's something to it: A little-known Republican with a well-known name -- George W. Bush -- took the early lead for his party's nomination in the 2000 race, and rode it to the White House.

Still, it takes substance to sustain a candidate, and early leaders don't always prevail. In the 1992 Democratic race, early favorites were former Democratic New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who ultimately didn't run, and former Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown, who did, but weakly.

Bill Clinton started as an unknown, with support in the single digits. His subsequent presidency paved the way for his wife's candidacy now -- just as the first President Bush paved the way for his son.

The proviso in all this: The elections are a long way off, and much can change. That's what campaigns are for.

Democratic Nomination

Clinton's lead for her party's nomination is fueled, in part, by her own natural affinity group, Democratic women: Nearly half support her, as do 30 percent of Democratic men. As noted, she also has 60 percent support from blacks, a core of the party, three times Obama's support in this group.

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