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The Latest Gallup Poll: Should Giuliani Start to Worry and the Impact of a Fred Thompson Entry

    No sooner had this week’s column been filed saying that Rudy Giuliani’s lead in the polls was holding that USA Today/Gallup came in with a new poll showing that his lead over John McCain had slipped compared to its previous poll a month ago from 24% to 9%. Should Giuliani be worried?
    Not yet. The 24-point lead of a month ago was clearly a polling aberration that had to correct itself – 9 points seems about right and is still a healthy lead. And this month’s poll was different because Gallup added a new candidate – Fred Thompson – who pulled in 12%, to John McCain’s 22% and/ Giuliani’s 31%. (Mitt Romney fell all the way to 3%.)
    One poll in March of 2007 doesn’t forecast an election. But if it’s true, it does show for now that:
  •     If Thompson gets into the race and starts campaigning, he is likely to rise quickly and challenge McCain for second place, in part because of his celebrity status as a star of “Law and Order."
  •    That will put the McCain campaign in real early trouble, both in terms of fundraising and his standing in the polls. McCain clearly has the allegiance of about 20% of the GOP electorate now but that isn’t enough to give him a victory in any state. With Thompson in the race, would McCain have a second act? (Next week’s Tote Board column will discuss the state of the McCain campaign.)
  •     The Romney campaign will be in even worse trouble. It’s true that Thompson’s entry theoretically improves Romney’s prospects in New Hampshire by splitting the vote further. But if Romney can’t get into double digits in the polls – and Thompson’s entry makes that likely – it means he will have trouble getting traction in Iowa. And, if he can’t do respectably in Iowa, New Hampshire voters a week later will conclude he’s a wasted vote and his campaign will be finished.
  •     The question for Giuliani is how much of this latest drop was just the natural consequence of bouncing polls early in the process (especially ones that offer voters different choices) and how much of it was due to the beginning of the negative stories which are sure to dog his campaign, courtesy of his conservative enemies. Polls over the next two months should tell that story.
  •     What it all reveals is that if Fred Thompson does enter the race, the field could ultimately be reduced to two viable candidates – Giuliani and Thompson. The GOP base would probably favor Thompson. But the hunch here is that Giuliani would be a much better campaigner if he perceived himself as the underdog. And many of the states that vote on Super-Super Tuesday (February 5) are favorable ones for him.   

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