Political Poker: Racing to 2008

In the current round of political poker, three players hold strong hands: the Democrats in Congress, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

Congressional Democrats get the first play: Most Americans call their takeover of Congress a good thing -- more than the number who thought it was a good thing when the Republicans took control in 1994 -- and the Democrats lead George W. Bush in trust to handle a range of issues.

Clinton's and Giuliani's turns are further off. Both hold top spots for their party's 2008 presidential nomination -- but the primary season still could be anybody's game: Most Americans don't know much yet about the political positions of these or any of the other top competitors.

CONGRESS -- Fifty-five percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll call the change in control of Congress a good thing, more than the 48 percent who said so after party control shifted in 1994. And the public trusts the Democrats over Bush to handle the country's major problems by a 26-point margin, 57 percent to 31 percent. That represents political capital.

The Democrats' advantage holds across specific issues. They hold a 56 percent to 32 percent lead in trust to handle the public's most pressing concern, Iraq (see 12/12 analysis), a 58 percent to 34 percent advantage in trust to handle the economy, a vast lead on health care (a more traditional Democratic issue), a 14-point advantage on ethics in government, and 15 points on immigration policy.

The Democrats even lead Bush by 50 percent to 41 percent in trust to handle terrorism, long a cornerstone of the Bush presidency, now much diminished as his support has ebbed as a result of broad discontent with the war in Iraq.

A caution for the Democrats is not to overplay their hand. Most Americans say they'd like to see both sides -- Bush and Democrats alike -- work mainly to compromise with each other, rather than to pursue their own agendas. Whether Bush and the Democrats comply will tell the tale of the 110th Congress.

Expectations are up -- but still not great. Forty-three percent think the next Congress will be able to accomplish things. Nevertheless, that's more than the 29 percent who said in October that the last Congress got much done.

FAVES -- The incoming Democratic leaders of the 110th Congress are rated more positively than negatively, though many Americans don't know enough about them to say one way or the other. Forty-six percent have a favorable opinion of speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, 33 percent unfavorable (much better among Democrats, much worse among Republicans, naturally). And 36 percent view incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid favorably, 18 percent unfavorably. The rest have no opinion.

2008 ELECTION -- More familiar are the current front-runners in the 2008 presidential election -- and most popular is former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Two-thirds of Americans view him positively, including six in 10 Democrats, about two-thirds of independents and nearly eight in 10 Republicans -- strong appeal across party lines that could prove critical in a general election, should he make it that far.

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