ALBANY, N.Y. – Sen. Charles Schumer (search) has a big lead over state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (search) for the 2006 Democratic nomination for governor while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) could face a tough battle for re-election that year, a statewide poll reported Wednesday.
Despite the encouraging numbers, a spokesman for Schumer said running for governor is "not on his radar screen."
The poll, from Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion (search), found former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search) leading Clinton, 50 percent to 46 percent, in a hypothetical Senate matchup.
The former first lady and Gov. George Pataki (search) were tied at 46 percent each in another hypothetical matchup.
Republicans Pataki and Giuliani, who quit the Senate race against Clinton in 2000 after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, are considered potential challengers to her expected bid for a second term in 2006.
Republicans have placed a high priority on beating Clinton in 2006 as a way of stopping a possible White House run by her in 2008. She is considered a potential contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination should President Bush be re-elected this year.
Clinton's approval rating hit 55 percent in the Marist poll, the highest since she was elected and the first time she broke the 50-percent barrier in the poll.
On the gubernatorial front, Spitzer has long been viewed as the favorite of Democratic Party elders for the 2006 nomination for governor. He has gained national attention with his high-profile probe into financial scandals at major Wall Street investment houses and big mutual funds.
But the Marist poll had Schumer, who is running for a second term this year, leading Spitzer 54 percent to 29 percent among Democratic voters surveyed.
While Spitzer is already raising money for a potential run for governor, Schumer has said he is focused on re-election.
"These numbers reflect that he is totally focused on being a good senator," said Schumer spokesman Phil Singer. "Governor is not on his radar screen.
Should Giuliani decide to run for governor in 2006 instead of the Senate, Schumer or Spitzer would have a tough time against him, according to the Marist poll. The former mayor, whose popularity soared in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers, leads Schumer, 52 percent to 35 percent, and tops Spitzer, 53 percent to 32 percent.
Should Pataki seek a fourth term in 2006, the Marist poll had him in a dead heat with Schumer, 43 percent for the governor to 44 percent for the senator, and leading Spitzer, 45 percent to 34 percent.
Pataki's approval rating was at 46 percent in the new poll, up from 40 percent in September.
State GOP Chairman Alexander Treadwell, noting Pataki's rising approval rating, said: "I hope he runs again."
Schumer's re-election chances have been looking good. Republicans have yet to come up with a big-name opponent and the only announced contender for the GOP nomination is a little-known former Wall Street trader, Michael Benjamin. Giuliani and several other prominent Republicans have already said they will not challenge Schumer.
The Marist poll found 39 percent of voters surveyed planned to vote for Schumer's re-election while just 15 percent planned to vote against him. Forty-six percent were undecided.
Schumer's approval rating was at 58 percent, like Clinton, an all-time high in the Marist poll.
"Incumbents are all faring better," said Marist pollster Lee Miringoff, noting the improving economy.
Miringoff said that while Spitzer has gotten lots of publicity because of his investigations, Schumer has something else going for him.
"When you're a U.S. senator, it may bring a little more to the table than a national news magazine cover," the independent pollster said.
Marist's telephone poll of 617 registered voters was conducted Jan. 6-7 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The findings based on a sampling of 544 Democratic voters has an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.