Building on her dual image of leadership and electability, Hillary Clinton has advanced to her most powerful advantage on the Democratic nomination campaign, with resounding leads on key issues and personal attributes, alike.
Clinton holds vast margins over her top rivals in trust to handle issues from health care, to the economy, to the war in Iraq. On personal attributes, 50 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say she best represents "the core values of the Democratic Party," again placing her far ahead of her main competitors.
These advantages help Clinton overcome her relative vulnerability on two attributes — inspiration and trustworthiness — propelling her to her biggest lead of the campaign. She has 53 percent support in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, up 12 points from early last month, vs. 20 percent for Barack Obama (down seven points to his lowest of the year), and a stable 13 percent for John Edwards.
This is the first news poll testing the full field of Democratic candidates, in which Clinton's support has exceeded 50 percent. Her numbers are consistent with her latest fundraising success: She pulled in $27 million in the third quarter of the year, beating Obama's $20 million take. He out-raised her in the second quarter.
GOP — On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani leads his competitors on the issues as well, but by smaller margins than Clinton, in her race. Coincidentally, like Clinton, Giuliani's also relatively vulnerable in his rating for honesty and trustworthiness.
But, Giuliani's biggest threat is his shakiness in the Republican base. Just 23 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say he best represents their party's core values &3151; no more than say so about either John McCain or Fred Thompson. That's as big a risk for him as it is an advantage for Clinton in her race, since it is motivated, core party voters, who customarily turn out for primary elections.
Giuliani, nonetheless, has regained his advantage, with 34 percent support, back to his spring and mid-summer level after a slip in early September, as Thompson formally joined the race. Thompson's support is stable, at 17 percent; McCain's slipped to 12 percent, a new low for him. Mitt Romney is stable at 11 percent, with other Republicans in the single digits. One, Mike Huckabee, has inched ahead to eight percent support.
INTEREST — The standings are almost identical among registered voters, as well as among those who are paying close attention to the contest. And interest remains high: 69 percent of Americans say they're following the race closely, about where it's been all year. That's 15 points higher than close attention at this time in the 2004 contest, and eight points more than it was at about this time in the 2000 campaign.
There's good reason for the focus; this is the first election since 1928 in which neither the sitting president nor the sitting vice president has sought their party's nomination.
THE DEMOCRATS — Six in 10 Democrats pick Clinton as the "strongest leader" among their top candidates, her single best attribute. (She's done equally well on having the "best experience," not retested in this survey.) Clinton's gained 11 points on leadership since June, while Obama's lost six.