National support for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani significantly eroded during the past month, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. The sign of volatility in both parties comes a month before the Iowa caucuses open the presidential primary season.
Clinton's standing among Democrats dropped by 11 percentage points from early November, and Giuliani's standing among Republicans fell by 9 points, though both continue to lead their fields.
The big winner: Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who jumped from fifth place among Republicans in early November to second place, 1 point ahead of Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson.
Giuliani leads Huckabee 25%-16%. Clinton leads Illinois Sen. Barack Obama 39%-24%. The phone surveys of 425 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 494 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have margins of error of +/—5 percentage points.
Clinton and Giuliani, who have topped each of 21 USA TODAY Polls taken this year, had never suffered such steep month-to-month drops before. And no contender in either party had scored as sharp a month-to-month boost as Huckabee.
"You can't argue that this is an Iowa-only event; it clearly has gone nationwide," Republican strategist Alex Vogel says of Huckabee's rise. A Des Moines Register poll published Sunday showed him leading in Iowa. "The real question is not 'Is it real?' It's 'Can the campaign organization catch up fast enough?' " (The Des Moines Register and USA TODAY are owned by Gannett.)
Huckabee still has room to grow. Nearly half of those polled have either not heard of him or not formed an opinion about him.
Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella notes that the former New York City mayor has led the GOP field in every major media poll since February. "It's clear he has real staying power," she says.
Among Democrats, Clinton's fall wasn't matched by a rise for Obama, whose standing rose 2 points from early November. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards was steady at 15%.
The New York senator, under increasing criticism by her rivals and the Republican National Committee, also suffered a deterioration in views of her personally. Her favorable rating dropped 5 points to 47%; her unfavorable rating rose 5 points to 50%.
"If they all gang up and attack her, she goes down some, but it doesn't change the strong and wide lead she has," says Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist. He acknowledges that her efforts to fight back are likely to fuel her negative ratings. "There are also risks to letting attacks go unanswered," he says.
Clinton's lead over Obama has been cut almost in half since early November, from 28 points to 15.
Democratic strategist Anita Dunn says Clinton has hit "a rough patch" but adds, "There are a few things about her that are absolutely true, and one is that she has a base — and, I think, a pretty strong one."
Clinton leads Obama by 26 points among Democratic partisans and 22 points among women.