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BREAKING NEWS: L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll dissected

October 23, 2007 |  6:22 pm

The new L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll, which you can peruse here, provides welcome news for Democrat Hillary Clinton and, to a lesser extent, Republican Rudy Giuliani. But a closer look at the results also identifies the hurdles that could keep either out of the White House.

Clinton is favored for her party's presidential nomination by almost half -- 48% -- of Democratic-leaning voters nationwide; as The Times' Peter Wallsten writes, that gives her a formidable lead in the contest. Her number is right on track with the average of her support -- 48.5% -- in several other recent national surveys, as aggregated on the RealClearPolitics Website. And trend lines could hardly be more favorable for her -- as Clinton's backing has grown, Barack Obama's has not, as we noted earlier. He came in this time with only 17%.

The poll also found Clinton doing significantly better in potential general election matchups with the top Republican presidential contenders, compared with the results in a Times/Bloomberg poll conducted in June. Back then, she lost each of these faceoffs; now, she's ahead.

Still, there's that little matter of her favorability rating.

When a sample that included Democrats, Republicans and independent voters was asked their impression of the New York senator and former first lady, she just barely ended up in positive territory:  48% said they had a favorable view of her, 44% unfavorable (a difference that falls inside the margin of error for this question -- 3 percentage points, plus or minus).

Most important, she did not score as well with independents, who loom ...

as such a crucial bloc in so many states. Among these voters, 42% gave Clinton favorable marks, 46% unfavorable.

These results are sure to stoke the arguments her Democratic rivals make about her prospects in a general election, as the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman wrote about here.

On the Republican side of the ledger, front-runner Giuliani has a more than 2-to-1 margin over his closest rival -- he's backed by 32% of GOP-leaning voters; Fred Thompson garners 15%. Thompson, in turn, is followed closely by John McCain (13%) and Mitt Romney (11%), with Mike Huckabee next (7%).

The numbers mean it's hard to tell who's running second, given the error margin of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points for the questions asked only of Republican- or Democratic-leaning voters.

If Clinton's big lead in the Democratic race belies potential problems she would face as the nominee, the poll highlights even more daunting challenges that Giuliani confronts.

When the GOP pool of voters was asked whether social conservatives should run a third-party candidate if the Republican nominee has a record of supporting abortion and gay rights (a description that fits only Giuliani), fully 34% said yes.

Additionally, 38% said they could only vote for a candidate who opposes abortion and gay rights.

At the moment, Giuliani is benefiting from the failure of any of his rivals to consolidate the GOP's conservative base. Indeed, he claims the largest bloc of support -- 34% -- among those Republican voters who identify themselves as conservatives.

Still, the poll results indicate there are a substantial number of Republicans who will not, under any circumstances, back Giuliani because of his past stands on key social issues. The questions that then arise are whether that's a group large enough to prevent him from winning the GOP nod, or derail his prospects in the general election if he does.

-- Don Frederick

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