WASHINGTON — Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani holds a slim lead in Florida over former Sen. Fred Thompson, while Sen. Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead over her Democratic Party rivals, according to a new poll released Friday to McClatchy Newspapers and NBC News.
The poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research found that Giuliani had the support of 21 percent of likely Republican primary voters. Thompson, R-Tenn., an undeclared candidate, had 18 percent; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., 11 percent; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 7 percent; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 5 percent; former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, 2 percent; and no one else with more than 1 percent.
Among Democrats, Clinton scored 31 percent; Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., 17 percent; former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., 12 percent; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, 4 percent; Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, 3 percent; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, 2 percent; and no one else with more than 1 percent.
The poll found that 30 percent of likely Democratic voters in Florida are undecided, as are 34 percent of likely Republican voters. The survey had an error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Thompson's second-place showing is potentially bad news for Giuliani, who's banking on winning Florida's Jan. 29 primary to slingshot him to victory one week later in delegate-rich big-state primaries, including California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.
Giuliani has made 13 visits to Florida since January. He spent more than $400,000 there from April to June, according to campaign finance records released earlier this month, including $100,000 for copies of voter files from the state Republican Party.
Thompson, a smooth-drawling Southerner and an actor, could cut into Giuliani's support in the South and disrupt his big-states route to the nomination.
"Thompson has significant support, and he really hasn't done anything," said J. Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon's managing director. "We saw a little bit of this in South Carolina, and we're seeing it in Florida. But Thompson's got to get in by Labor Day so people can take him seriously."
Though he hasn't formally entered the race, Thompson has generated a lot of buzz from social conservatives who are wary of Giuliani, a social moderate who supports abortion rights, same-sex civil unions and has been married three times.
Coker said Thompson also is benefiting from McCain's recent political misfortunes. Behind in the polls, strapped for cash, unable to raise funds at the pace of his rivals, McCain recently overhauled his campaign brain trust and laid off staff.
"If Thompson gets in, it will be him, Giuliani and Romney," Coker said. "The question is, can McCain recover? There's still plenty of time for McCain to recover, but he does have some problems."