Republicans' Challenges: Plenty for Everyone

From ideology to religion to simple unfamiliarity, the leading Republican candidates for president all face significant challenges, which add up to a lineup that's viewed a good deal less satisfactorily than their Democratic counterparts.

Given what they know, only about half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the leading GOP candidates are "about right" on social issues. While 65 percent are satisfied overall with the field, that compares with 83 percent satisfaction among Democrats. And Republicans are barely more than a third as likely as Democrats to be "very satisfied" with their choices.

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Lack of intensity also shows up in strength of support for the front-running Republican, Rudy Giuliani. Among Republicans who favor him for the nomination, just 32 percent "strongly" support Giuliani, down from 45 percent in April. On the Democratic side, by contrast, Hillary Clinton has 68 percent "strong" support; Barack Obama, 56 percent.

A third of leaned Republicans, moreover, see Giuliani as too liberal on social issues, more than say so about any of the other top candidates. That rises among some core Republican groups -- 51 percent of evangelical white Protestants call Giuliani too liberal, as do 42 percent of conservatives and 40 percent of those who oppose legal abortion.

THE RACE -- Giuliani nonetheless remains the preferred candidate: With support from 37 percent of leaned Republicans he continues to lead the field by double digits, as he has all year. John McCain and Fred Thompson trail him by a substantial margin, with 16 and 15 percent support, respectively.

Though these numbers are very similar to last month's, there have been changes. Giuliani is down from a peak of 53 percent support in February; McCain hit 23 percent in that same poll. (Thompson was not in the race at the time, though officially he still has yet to announce.) Mitt Romney has 8 percent support, with other candidates in the low single digits.

EXPERIENCE vs. VISION -- Key for Giuliani is his perceived strength and experience. In marked contrast to Democrats, leaned Republicans overwhelmingly say strength and experience are more important to them than "a new direction and new ideas," by 66 percent to 28 percent. Democrats, by contrast, pick "a new direction," albeit by a much closer nine-point margin.

This is critical for Giuliani, because among leaned Republicans who put strength and experience first, he has 40 percent support, compared with 15 percent for McCain and Thompson alike. Among those who place higher priority on a new direction, by contrast, Giuliani gets 26 percent support vs. 20 percent for McCain, 15 percent for Thompson.

Interestingly, on the Democratic side, Clinton, too, owes her lead to "strength and experience," with a 32-point lead over Obama among those who pick it, compared with a dead heat among those who care more about a new direction and new ideas.

Giuliani, like Clinton in her party, also has an aura of electability. Forty-five percent of leaned Republicans think he has the best chance of winning in the general election, far outpacing his closest rivals, Thompson (15 percent) and McCain (10 percent).

CHALLENGES -- As noted, there are challenges for the Republicans across the board. While about a third of leaned Republicans say Giuliani's too liberal on social issues, a quarter say the same of McCain (hardly fatal, but one in four is not nothing). In two core groups, McCain is seen as too liberal by 36 percent of evangelical white Protestants and by 35 percent of conservatives.

Thompson and Romney simply are less known: One-third of leaned Republicans are unable to rate Thompson ideologically, as are 24 percent for Romney, who's been campaigning since last fall.

Romney, more seriously, faces continued misgivings about his faith. A third of leaned Republicans (32 percent) describe themselves as "uncomfortable" with the idea of a Mormon president. That goes to 39 percent of evangelical white Protestants, a core GOP group. Twenty-five percent of evangelicals are "entirely" uncomfortable with a Mormon president.

GROUPS -- Giuliani leads among almost all groups, with a notable difference by ideology: He does 13 points better with moderate or liberal leaned Republicans than with conservatives.

Here, Thompson appears to have made a move, at McCain's expense. Last month McCain was supported by 21 percent of conservatives; today, its 12 percent. More conservatives, 22 percent, are now with Thompson than with McCain.

This is also apparent among leaned Republicans who call Giuliani more liberal than they'd like: In this group, Thompson has 27 percent, McCain 17 percent. (About as many as support McCain -- 15 percent -- go for Giuliani anyway.)

McCain, for his part, does his best among independents and younger voters.

Slicing the race different ways makes little difference. With McCain out, for instance, Giuliani goes to 42 percent support, Thompson 18 percent, Romney 10 percent.

WAR -- The unpopularity of the war in Iraq and George W. Bush's job performance pose further challenge for Republicans looking down the road to the general election. Nearly four in 10 mainline Republicans say they're more apt to favor a candidate who supports Bush's war policies -- but among independents, the classic swing voters, just 13 percent call this a positive, and 49 percent instead say they're less likely to back a candidate who supports Bush on the war.

More broadly, while just 33 percent of all Americans approve of Bush's job performance -- a career low -- that soars to 77 percent of mainline Republicans. That means the eventual GOP candidate may be torn between running with Bush (to satisfy the base) or running away from him (to attract the center). And as if this weren't enough, just 23 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Republicans, the fewest in seven years. That's the last hurdle, and probably the highest, for the eventual Republican nominee.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone July 18-21, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,125 adults. Additional interviews were conducted with an oversample of randomly selected African-Americans for a total of 210 black respondents. The results have a three-point error margin for the full sample and five points for the sample of 403 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF with full questionnaire and results.

Click here for more ABC News polls.