Three issues look primed to dominate: Iraq, the economy and health care. Asked the first and second most important issues in the election, 45 percent cite Iraq, 29 percent the economy and 27 percent health care, with other mentions in the single digits.
There are some partisan differences: Republicans are more apt than Democrats to cite terrorism or immigration, while Democrats are more emphatic on health care and Iraq.
Interest in the election remains substantial -- 67 percent of Americans say they're following it somewhat or very closely (mainly "somewhat"), steady all year. And Democrats are more apt to like what they see: Eighty-one percent are satisfied with their choice of candidates, far more than said so at this time in 2003 (68 percent). Notably fewer Republicans, 69 percent, are satisfied with the choices for their nomination.
The Democrats' interest is focused in large part on Clinton, who retains a sizable lead for the nomination. She's supported by 49 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, compared with 26 percent for Barack Obama and 12 percent for John Edwards, with all others in single digits. The figures are virtually identical among registered voters and likely voters.
Clinton's support has ranged from 41 to 53 percent in seven ABC/Post polls this year, highest in the last two. She continues to lead across population groups within the party. The only meaningful change in this poll compared to the last, completed Sept. 30, is a slight six-point improvement for Obama, putting him back at his level earlier this year.
Within her party, Clinton's riding the two-horse team of strength and electability. Sixty-two percent of Democrats pick her as the candidate most likely to win in November, a new high and up 19 points since June. Fifty-nine percent also pick her as the strongest leader, her next largest advantage.
Her reputation for overall leadership also lends Clinton a more-than 2-1 advantage among Democrats in trust to handle Iraq and Iran alike, the latter despite a recent dust-up over her support for designating Iran's Republican Guards as a terrorist group.
Clinton has been, and remains, most vulnerable on honesty and trustworthiness, an attribute on which a comparatively low 34 percent now choose her, vs. 29 percent for Obama. But that is better than it was as recently as June, when Obama had a six-point edge on this quality.
In the Republican race, Giuliani retains almost a 2-1 lead over his closest opponents, with 33 percent support from Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, compared with 19 percent for John McCain, 16 percent for Fred Thompson, 11 percent for Mitt Romney and 9 percent for Mike Huckabee. The only real change from a month ago is a seven-point advance for McCain, back to his level earlier this year.
There are many more fault lines in the Republican contest than on the Democratic side. Evangelical white Protestants, a core Republican group with objections to Giuliani's support for legal abortion and gay civil unions, divide evenly among Giuliani, McCain and Thompson. Similarly, Giuliani's support is 10 points lower among conservatives than among moderates (conservatives provide nearly all of Huckabee's support). And Giuliani holds a substantially larger lead among Republican-leaning independents than among mainline Republicans.